Rosa Parks Bio
Rosa Parks also known as Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. The United States Congress has called her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”Rosa Parks and President Bill Clinton
Rosa Parks Age
Rosa was born in the year 1913 Feb 4 but died in the year 2005 October 24 at the age of 92 years.
Rosa Parks Childhood/Early Life
Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913, to Leona (née Edwards), a teacher, and James McCauley, a carpenter. She was of Cherokee-Creek descent with one of her great-grandmothers having been a documented Native American slave.
Additionally, she had a Scots-Irish great-grandfather. She was small as a child and suffered poor health with chronic tonsillitis.
When her parents separated, she moved with her mother to Pine Level, just outside the state capital, Montgomery. She grew up on a farm with her maternal grandparents, mother, and younger brother Sylvester. They all were members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), a century-old independent black denomination founded by free blacks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the early nineteenth century.
McCauley attended rural schools until the age of eleven. As a student at the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery, she took academic and vocational courses. Parks went on to a laboratory school set up by the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes for secondary education but dropped out in order to care for her grandmother and later her mother, after they became ill.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the former Confederate states had adopted new constitutions and electoral laws that effectively disenfranchised black voters and, in Alabama, many poor white voters as well. Under the white-established Jim Crow laws, passed after Democrats regained control of southern legislatures, racial segregation was imposed in public facilities and retail stores in the South, including public transportation.
Bus and train companies enforced seating policies with separate sections for blacks and whites. School bus transportation was unavailable in any form for black schoolchildren in the South, and black education was always underfunded.
Parks recalled going to elementary school in Pine Level, where school buses took white students to their new school and black students had to walk to theirs:
I’d see the bus pass every day … But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.
Although Parks’ autobiography recounts early memories of the kindness of white strangers, she could not ignore the racism of her society. When the Ku Klux Klan marched down the street in front of their house, Parks recalls her grandfather guarding the front door with a shotgun.
The Montgomery Industrial School, founded and staffed by white northerners for black children, was burned twice by arsonists. Its faculty was ostracized by the white community.
Repeatedly bullied by white children in her neighborhood, Parks often fought back physically. She later said: “As far back as I remember, I could never think in terms of accepting physical abuse without some form of retaliation if possible.”
Rosa Parks Husband
In 1932, Rosa got married to Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. He was a member of the NAACP, which at the time was collecting money to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black men falsely accused of raping two white women.
Rosa Parks Education/Career
Rosa took numerous jobs, ranging from domestic work to hospital aide. At her husband’s urging, she finished her high school studies in 1933, at a time when less than 7% of African Americans had a high-school diploma.
In December 1943, Parks became active in the civil rights movement, joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and was elected secretary at a time when this was considered a woman’s job. She later said, “I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too timid to say no.”
She continued as secretary until 1957. She worked for the local NAACP leader Edgar Nixon, even though he maintained that “Women don’t need to be nowhere but in the kitchen.” When Parks asked, “Well, what about me?”, he replied: “I need a secretary and you are a good one.”
In 1944, in her capacity as secretary, she investigated the gang-rape of Recy Taylor, a black woman from Abbeville, Alabama. Parks and other civil rights activists organized “The Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor”, launching what the Chicago Defender called “the strongest campaign for equal justice to be seen in a decade.”
Although never a member of the Communist Party, she attended meetings with her husband. The notorious Scottsboro case had been brought to prominence by the Communist Party.
In the 1940s, Parks and her husband were members of the Voters’ League. Sometime soon after 1944, she held a brief job at Maxwell Air Force Base, which, despite its location in Montgomery, Alabama, did not permit racial segregation because it was federal property. She rode on its integrated trolley. Speaking to her biographer, Parks noted, “You might just say Maxwell opened my eyes up.”
Parks worked as a housekeeper and seamstress for Clifford and Virginia Durr, a white couple. Politically liberal, the Durrs became her friends. They encouraged—and eventually helped sponsor—Parks in the summer of 1955 to attend the Highlander Folk School, an education center for activism in workers’ rights and racial equality in Monteagle, Tennessee.
There Parks was mentored by the veteran organizer Septima Clark. In 1945, despite the Jim Crow laws and discrimination by registrars, she succeeded in registering to vote on her third try.
In August 1955, black teenager Emmett Till was brutally murdered after reportedly flirting with a young white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi. On November 27, 1955, four days before she would make her stand on the bus, Rosa Parks attended a mass meeting at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery that addressed this case as well as the recent murders of the activists George W. Lee and Lamar Smith.
The featured speaker was T. R. M. Howard, a black civil rights leader from Mississippi who headed the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. Howard brought news of the recent acquittal of the two men who had murdered Till. Parks was deeply saddened and angry at the news, particularly because Till’s case had garnered much more attention than any of the cases she and the Montgomery NAACP had worked on—and yet, the two men still walked free.
Rosa Parks Death and Funeral
Parks died of natural causes on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92, in her apartment on the east side of Detroit. She and her husband never had children and she outlived her only sibling. She was survived by her sister-in-law (Raymond’s sister), 13 nieces and nephews and their families, and several cousins, most of the residents of Michigan or Alabama.
City officials in Montgomery and Detroit announced on October 27, 2005, that the front seats of their city buses would be reserved with black ribbons in honor of Parks until her funeral. Parks’ coffin was flown to Montgomery and taken in a horse-drawn hearse to the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, where she lay in repose at the altar on October 29, 2005, dressed in the uniform of a church deaconess.
A memorial service was held there the following morning. One of the speakers, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said that if it had not been for Parks, she would probably have never become the Secretary of State. In the evening the casket was transported to Washington, D.C. and transported by a bus similar to the one in which she made her protest, to lie in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Since the founding of the practice in 1852, Parks was the 31st person, the first American who had not been a U.S. government official, and the second private person (after the French planner Pierre L’Enfant) to be honored in this way. She was the first woman and the second black person to lie in honor in the Capitol.
An estimated 50,000 people viewed the casket there, and the event was broadcast on television on October 31, 2005. A memorial service was held that afternoon at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC.
With her body and casket returned to Detroit, for two days, Parks lay in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Her funeral service was seven hours long and was held on November 2, 2005, at the Greater Grace Temple Church in Detroit.
After the service, an honor guard from the Michigan National Guard laid the U.S. flag over the casket and carried it to a horse-drawn hearse, which was intended to carry it, in daylight, to the cemetery. As the hearse passed the thousands of people who were viewing the procession, many clapped, cheered loudly and released white balloons.
Parks was interred between her husband and mother at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery in the chapel’s mausoleum. The chapel was renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel in her honor. Parks had previously prepared and placed a headstone on the selected location with the inscription “Rosa L. Parks, wife, 1913–.”
Rosa Parks Accomplishments
10 MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF ROSA PARKS
1. SHE HELPED IN ORGANIZING THE DEFENSE OF THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
Rosa Parks began her activism in opposition to injustices committed against African Americans in the 1930s. Her first major involvement was in organizing the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American teenagers falsely accused of raping two White American women on a train in 1931. Rosa Parks and her husband Raymond, along with other black activists, organized secret meetings to raise money for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys.
However, despite medical evidence to suggest that they had not committed the crime, four of the nine defendants were convicted of rape and all but two served prison sentences. The Scottsboro Boys case is now considered a gross miscarriage of justice.
2. SHE SERVED AS SECRETARY TO EDGAR NIXON IN MONTGOMERY DIVISION OF NAACP
In 1943, Rosa Parks joined the Montgomery division of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the leading African-American civil rights organization of the 20th century. The same year, she was elected secretary to the local NAACP leader Edgar Nixon.
She served in this position for 14 years until 1957. As an NAACP member, among other things, Parks and her allies used the networks they had stitched together during the Scottsboro case to protect black women from sexual assaults perpetrated by white men.
3. ROSA PARKS PLAYED A LEADING ROLE IN MOBILIZING PEOPLE TO SUPPORT RECY TAYLOR
In September 1944, an African American woman named Recy Taylor was kidnapped while leaving the church and brutally gang-raped by six white men. Rosa Parks, in her capacity as secretary, investigated the incident. Rosa Parks played a leading role in spreading Recy Taylor’s story and in creating the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor (CERT).
The committee gathered national support with local chapters springing up across the United States. The Chicago Defender called it “the strongest campaign for equal justice to be seen in a decade” and it provided an early organizational spark for the African American civil rights movement. However, despite the men admitting the rape to authorities, the two all white male juries declined to indict the men, meaning no charges were ever brought against them.
4. HER REFUSAL TO GIVE UP HER BUS SEAT LED TO THE INFLUENTIAL MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT
In 1900, Montgomery had passed a city ordinance to segregate bus passengers by race. The blacks were generally assigned the back rows. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks.
The bus was soon crowded and as some white passengers were standing, the driver James F. Blake ordered blacks to leave their seats for the white passengers. Three black men complied but Rosa Parks refused. Police were called and Parks was arrested and charged with a violation of the segregation laws.
Four days after the incident, African Americans in Montgomery boycotted the bus service of the city in a protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation in the public transit system of the city. The Montgomery bus boycott is regarded as the first large-scale demonstration against segregation in the United States.
5. ROSA PARKS IS REGARDED AS THE MOTHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
African Americans constituted at least 75 percent of Montgomery’s bus ridership and the Montgomery bus boycott caused enough financial damage to the city transit system. It lasted from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956, when the US Supreme Court ruled Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional.
In 1956, the year of the boycott, Parks traveled throughout the country, raising awareness and funds for the movement. The Montgomery bus boycott was the earliest mass protest on behalf of civil rights in the US and it was during the boycott that Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as a prominent national leader of the movement. For her role in the movement, Rosa Parks is called the “the mother of the civil rights movement” and “the first lady of civil rights”.
6. SHE WAS INDUCTED INTO MICHIGAN WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME
In 1957, Rosa Parks moved to Detroit in the U.S. state of Michigan. She spent most of her remaining life there fighting against racial inequality. By 1968, Parks had also expanded her activism to include women’s equality. She joined the Detroit branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and, by 1971, she was serving as one of the six vice-presidents of the group.
WILPF aims to unite women worldwide to oppose oppression and exploitation and to achieve permanent peace. 1983, Rosa Parks was inducted into Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame for her achievements in civil rights.
7. SHE WROTE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY TITLED ROSA PARKS: MY STORY
Rosa Parks served as a secretary and receptionist of Congressman John Conyers for more than 20 years from 1965 until her retirement in 1988. In this capacity, she focused on socio-economic issues including welfare, education, job discrimination, and affordable housing.
As an activist, she continued to work on issues such as reparations, black history, anti-police brutality, freedom for black political prisoners, independent black political power and economic justice. After her retirement, Parks wrote two books: Rosa Parks: My Story (1992), an autobiography which recounts her life leading to her decision to keep her seat on the bus; and Quiet Strength (1995), a memoir which focuses on her faith.
8. SHE CO-FOUNDED THE ROSA AND RAYMOND PARKS INSTITUTE FOR SELF DEVELOPMENT
In 1980, Rosa Parks co-founded the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation, which awards scholarships to Michigan high school seniors. Since its foundation, it has benefited more than 900 applicants with over $1.8 million in scholarship money.
In February 1987, along with Elaine Eason Steele, Parks co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development for youth development; and civil rights education and advocacy. The institute has various programs including the Pathways to Freedom which teaches the youth about everything on the struggle of African Americans from the underground railroad to the civil rights movement.
9. ROSA PARKS WAS AWARDED THE PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM IN 1996
In 1979, the NAACP awarded Rosa Parks the Spingarn Medal, their highest honor, and the following year, they presented her with the Martin Luther King Jr. Award. In 1996, President Bill Clinton presented Rosa Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1999, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest civilian awards in the United States. Parks received many other awards including the Candace Award (1984), the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award (1992) and the International Freedom Conductor Award (1999).
10. SHE IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL FIGURES OF THE 20TH CENTURY
Due to the Montgomery bus boycott, Rosa Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She fought through her life for racial equality and women’s rights, and she is considered one of the most important figures of the African American civil rights movement.
In 1999, Time magazine named Rosa Parks as one of the 100 most influential and iconic figures of the 20th century. Also, in 2002, African American scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed her on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans. Due to her contributions, Parks has been honored numerous times, both during her life and after her death in 2005.
Rosa Parks Awards
1. Presidential Medal of Freedom
2. Congressional Gold Medal
3. Spingarn Medal
4. Golden Plate Awards
5. NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Rosa Parks Bus Boycott
On Sunday, December 4, 1955, plans for the Montgomery bus boycott were announced at black churches in the area, and a front-page article in the Montgomery Advertiser helped spread the word. At a church rally that night, those attending agreed unanimously to continue the boycott until they were treated with the level of courtesy they expected until black drivers were hired, and until seating in the middle of the bus was handled on a first-come basis.
The next day, Parks was tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. The trial lasted 30 minutes. After being found guilty and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs, Parks appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. In a 1992 interview with National Public Radio’s Lynn Neary, Parks recalled:
I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time there was an opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner.
I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.
On the day of Parks’ trial on December 5, 1955, the WPC distributed the 35,000 leaflets. The handbill read,
We are asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses on Monday.
It rained that day, but the black community persevered in their boycott. Some rode in carpools, while others traveled in black-operated cabs that charged the same fare as the bus, 10 cents. Most of the remainder of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles (30 km).
That evening after the success of the one-day boycott, a group of 16 to 18 people gathered at the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church to discuss boycott strategies. At that time Parks was introduced but not asked to speak, despite a standing ovation and calls from the crowd for her to speak; when she asked if she should say something, the reply was, “Why, you’ve said enough.”
The group agreed that a new organization was needed to lead the boycott effort if it were to continue. Rev. Ralph Abernathy suggested the name “Montgomery Improvement Association” (MIA). The name was adopted, and the MIA was formed. Its members elected as their president Martin Luther King, Jr, a relative newcomer to Montgomery, who was a young and mostly unknown minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
That Monday night, 50 leaders of the African-American community gathered to discuss actions to respond to Parks’ arrest. Edgar Nixon, the president of the NAACP, said, “My God, look what segregation has put in my hands!”Parks was considered the ideal plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws, as she was seen as a responsible, mature woman with a good reputation.
She was securely married and employed, was regarded as possessing a quiet and dignified demeanor, and was politically savvy. King said that Parks was regarded as “one of the finest citizens of Montgomery not one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery.”
Parks’ court case was being slowed down in appeals through the Alabama courts on their way to a Federal appeal and the process could have taken years. Holding together a boycott for that length of time would have been a great strain. In the end, black residents of Montgomery continued the boycott for 381 days.
Dozens of public buses stood idle for months, severely damaging the bus transit company’s finances until the city repealed its law requiring segregation on public buses following the US Supreme Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that it was unconstitutional.
Parks was not included as a plaintiff in the Browder decision because the attorney Fred Gray concluded the courts would perceive they were attempting to circumvent her prosecution on her charges working their way through the Alabama state court system.
Parks played an important part in raising international awareness of the plight of African Americans and the civil rights struggle. King wrote in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom that Parks’ arrest was the catalyst rather than the cause of the protest: “The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices.”
He wrote, “Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually, the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.’”