Most historians have stated that the modern civil rights movement began with perhaps a quiet, unknown woman by the name of Rosa Parks. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, Rosa parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, and was arrested for violating a city ordinance. This one act of defiance began a civil rights movement that led to racial segregation and made her an inspiration to black and white people everywhere. Let’s take a look at her and the effects that one defiant act had on American history.
Who was Rosa Parks?
•Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on February 4 1913 to James McCauley and Leona Edwards.
•Parks’ mother was a school teacher and her father was a carpenter.
•Rosa suffered from poor health when she was young and had chronic tonsillitis.
•Her parents separated when she was young and she moved with her mother to Pine Level, Alabama (just outside of Montgomery).
•She grew up on a farm with her maternal grandparents, mother, and younger brother Sylvester.
•Her mother home-schooled Rosa until she was eleven years old and then she was enrolled at the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery.
•She was not able to finish her secondary education because she had to care for her ill grandmother and later for her mother.
•Growing up, Rosa was used to seeing segregation because it was everywhere. Segregation included public transportation, education, and almost every public community service. She recalls seeing the bus pass every day as she walked to school. School bus transportation was only available for the white students. It was here that she realized that there was a black world and a white world.
•Rosa McCauley married Raymond Parks in 1932; a barber from Montgomery.
After getting married, Rosa took a number of different jobs and finished her school studies in 1933. This was extremely significant as most African Americans were not able to get a high school diploma.
•After three tries, Rosa succeeded in registering to vote despite the Jim Crow laws.
•In 1943 Parks became an active member of the Civil Rights Movement and joined the Montgomery group of the NAACP. She was elected to be the secretary to the president Edgar Nixon. She held this position until 1957.
•In the 1940s she held many different job positions; she and her husband were members of a voter’s league; she worked at Maxwell Air Force Base, and also worked as a house keeper and seamstress.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
•On December 1, 1955 after a long day of work Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus around 6 pm. She paid her fare and sat down in an empty seat in the section that was reserved for black or “colored” people. As the bus continued down its route more and more passengers got on, many of them being white. The white seats filled up and so did the black seats.
•Earlier in the 1900s Montgomery had passed an ordinance in order to segregate passengers by race. Bus Conductors were granted power to assign seats but no passengers were required to move or give up their seat if the bus became crowded or no other seats were available. Over time however, many disregarded the latter part of the ordinance and required black riders to move when there were no white seats left.
•On December 1 when the bus driver came and moved the sign and ordered four passengers to move to allow the white passengers standing to sit, Rosa has been quoted saying, “I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.” She was arrested that night and charged with a violation, even though she technically was not sitting in the white-only section.
•Rosa parks received the Congressional Gold Medal
•In 1979 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded Parks the Spingarn Medal
•She received the Martin Luther King Jr. award in 1980.
•In 1983 she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame for her civil rights achievements.
•In 1990 she helped welcome Nelson Mandela back from his imprisonment in South Africa.
•In 1996 Bill Clinton presented Rosa Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
•In 1998 she became the first recipient of the International Freedom Conductor Award.
She has also been awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from Universities worldwide.
Rosa Parks, through one defiant act left her mark upon American history and began the civil rights movement. She died at the age of ninety two on October 24, 2005 in Detroit.
Click here for recommended Rosa Parks websites.