Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913 in
Tuskegee, Alabama. She is often referred to as the "Mother of the Civil
Rights Movement". Her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus
triggered the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus
boycott and set in motion the test case for the desegregation of public
On December 1,
1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, the arrest of Ms. Parks, for disregarding an order
to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger galvanized a growing movement to
desegregate public transportation, and marked a historic turning point in the
African American battle for civil rights.
Rosa Parks was the granddaughter of former
slaves and the daughter of James McCauley, a carpenter, and Leona McCauley, a
rural schoolteacher. She grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, where she attended the
all-black Alabama State College. In 1932 Parks married Raymond Parks, a barber.
In the early 1950s Parks found work as a
tailor's assistant at the Montgomery Fair Department Store. She had a part-time
job working as a seamstress for Virginia and Clifford Durr, a white liberal
couple who encouraged Parks in her civil rights work. Six months before her
famous protest, Rosa Parks received a scholarship to attend a workshop on school
integration for community leaders at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle,
Tennessee, and spent several weeks there.
On December 1, 1955, Parks took her seat in
the front of the "colored section" of a Montgomery bus. When the
driver asked Parks and three other black riders to relinquish their seats to
whites, Parks refused (the others complied. The driver called the police, and
Parks was arrested. That night she was released on a $100 bond.
On the evening of
December 5, several thousand protesters crowded into the Holt Street Baptist
Church to create the Montgomery Improvement Association. What was planned as a
day-long bus boycott swelled to 381 days when the District Court ruled declaring
segregated seating on buses unconstitutional, a decision later upheld by the
U.S. Supreme Court.
Parks and her
husband relocated to Detroit, Michigan in 1957, where they struggled financially
for the next eight years. In 1965, Congressman John Conyers hired her as an
administrative assistant, a position she held until 1987. In
the 1980s she worked in support of the South African antiapartheid movement, and
in 1987 she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in
Detroit, a career counseling center for black youth. In June of 1999, Rosa Parks
was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
A friend once described Parks as someone who,
as a rule, did not defy authority, but once determined on a course of action,
refused to back down: "She might ignore you, go around you, but never
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