Parks, Rosa

September 21, 2011

On December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks climbed on board the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, she had no way of knowing that her actions that day would change a world, and later result in her being considered one of the founders of the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. At the time of her birth, Rosa’s mother, Leona Edwards, was a school teacher dedicated to learning, from Pine Level and Rosa’s father, James McCauley, was a carpenter and stonemason from Abbeville. After their marriage, the young couple moved to Tuskegee, the cultural center for blacks in the South. Tuskegee claims ties with many famous southern blacks; most notable are Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. Washington founded The Tuskegee Normal Industrial Institute, or simply the Tuskegee Institute. It was this cultural and social environment that Rosa Parks was born into, but she was not to live in Tuskegee for long. The McCauleys had to leave Tuskegee for economic reasons and moved back to Abbeville to live with James’ parents. This caused the permanent separation of Rosa’s parents when she was just 2 years old. Leona McCauley and Rosa moved back to Pine Level with Rosa’s younger brother, Sylvester, to live with Leona’s parents. Rosa spent her childhood in Pine Level, before moving to Montgomery in 1923 at the age of 10. In 1932, Rosa married Ray Parks, a barber by profession and an active civil rights activist. Two years later, Rosa Parks earned her high school diploma.

The bus incident was not Rosa’s first introduction to activism. Rosa and Ray had long been active members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the St. Paul AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church. Rosa had attended at least one lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps Rosa’s introduction early in life to the cultural environment of Tuskegee or her later exposure to some of the finest activists of her time prepared her for her stand that December day on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Rosa did not intend to become the catalyst who would change history that day; she was just a tired woman who was tired of being pushed around. Rosa did not sit in the all-white section, rather she sat in the neutral middle, where blacks could sit if there was no need for more white seats. When the bus driver asked the blacks seated in the middle section to move to the back of the bus to accommodate the whites who had just gotten on the bus, she refused. Rosa Parks was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance.

Rosa’s arrest and subsequent conviction charged the black civil rights movement. The weekend of Rosa’s arrest, a meeting was called with leaders of the black community and the bus boycott was planned. On Monday, December 5, 1955, the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott started and the Montgomery Improvement Association was formed, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a newcomer to Montgomery, placed in charge. One week later, some 7,000 blacks rallied in protest of her conviction. In 1956, the United States District Court held that segregated buses were unconstitutional, a decision that the United States Supreme Court upheld. Rosa Parks remained active in civil rights. In 1980, Rosa became the first woman to receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

SEE ALSO: Affirmative action, African American, Discrimination, United States Civil Rights Acts of 1964

Suggested Reading

  • Brandt, K. (1993). Rosa Parks: Fight for freedom. Mahwah, NJ: Troll Associates.
  • Brinkley, D. (2002). Rosa Parks. New York: Viking Penguin.
  • Felder, D. G. (1996). The 100 most influential women of all time. New York: Carol Publishing Group.
  • Nelson, G. (1993). Rosa Parks: Hero of our time. Cleveland, OH: Modern Curriculum Press.
  • Scholastic, Inc. (2003). Rosa Parks: My story. New York (July, 2003).
  • Siegel, B. (1992). The year they walked: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. New York: Four Winds Press.
  • Time Online Edition. (2003). The 100 most influential people of the 20th century. The Torchbearer: Rosa Parks (July, 2003).

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