Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African-American civil rights activist and is considered "the first lady of civil rights", and "the mother of the freedom movement". She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, such as Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and Martin Luther Jr.
Rosa Parks' childhood brought her early experiences with racial discrimination and activism for racial equality. After her parents separated, Rosa's mother moved the family to Pine Level, Alabama to live with her parents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards, on their farm. Both her grandparents were former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality. In one experience, Rosa's grandfather stood in front of their house with a shotgun while Ku Klux Klan members marched down the street.
Her arrest led to a Supreme Court decision that segregation on such forms of public transportation was illegal, sparking the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Parks was regarded as a hero and spent the whole of her life as a face of the movement.
Parks received her early education at a blacks-only one-room schoolhouse where classes were only held for five months a year so that students could work the fields. Violence against African Americans, including lynchings and burnings, was a part of her life, as the Ku Klux Klan was active in the area.
Most historians date the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States to December 1, 1955. That was the day when an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This brave woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere.
After attending Alabama State Teachers College, the young Rosa settled in Montgomery, with her husband, Raymond Parks. The couple joined the local chapter of the NAACP and worked quietly for many years to improve the lot of African-Americans in the segregated south.
"Are you going to stand up?" the driver demanded. Rosa Parks looked straight at him and said: "No." Flustered, and not quite sure what to do, Blake retorted, "Well, I'm going to have you arrested." And Parks, still sitting next to the window, replied softly, "You may do that."
When Martin Luther King, Jr. heard that Mrs. Parks had been arrested, he called a meeting at his church. A huge crowd gathered to hear what he had to say. People wanted things to change, but they were afraid. They did not want to be arrested or attacked. People shrugged their shoulders and said there was nothing they could do. It was just the way things were. Dr. King believed there was something they could do.
The events triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks that was organized by a 26-year-old Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The boycott led to a court ruling desegregating public transportation in Montgomery, but it wasn't until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that all public accommodations nationwide were desegregated.
"God sat with me," Parks said this week, "as I remained calm and determined not to be treated with less dignity than any other citizen of Montgomery."
Her action was spontaneous and not pre-meditated, although her previous civil rights involvement and strong sense of justice were obvious influences. "When I made that decision," she said later, “I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me.”
Throughout Rosa's life, she had won many awards and medals. The NAACP awarded Rosa with the Spingarn Medal in 1979. This was their highest honor. One year later she had been given the Martin Luther King Jr Award. In September of 1992, Rosa Parks had the honor of winning the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience award. It was rightfully awarded to Rosa for her years of community service and lifelong commitment to social change through non-violent means and civil rights. In the year 1996, Rosa was presented, by President Bill Clinton, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat, followed by the yearlong bus boycott, had far-reaching results. Blacks in other southern cities realized that if protest worked in Montgomery, it could work elsewhere, and they began to protest segregation in their own towns.
There were places black people couldn't go, and rights we did not have. This was not acceptable to me. A lot of other people didn't disobey the rules because they didn't want to get into trouble. I was willing to get arrested — it was worth the consequences.
She was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most Influential people of the 20th century. A Museum and Library is being built in her honor, in Montgomery, AL