Rosa Parks day takes place on 4 February to commemorate the birth of American civil rights activist Rosa Louise McCauley Parks who was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, She was of Cherokee-Creek descent with one of her great-grandmothers having been a documented Native American slave. She also had a Scots-Irish great-grandfather. As a child she 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 Where school buses took white students to their new school and black students had to walk to theirs. She attended the The Montgomery Industrial School, which was founded and staffed by white northerners for black children, and took academic and vocational courses however it was ostracized by the white community and attacked twice by arsonists. Parks then 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.
She grew up in Alabama, a former Confederate state which 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.
In 1932, Rosa married 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 took numerous jobs, ranging from domestic worker 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, where She worked for the local NAACP leader Edgar Nixon as a secretary until 1957. 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.”
In the 1940s, Parks and her husband were members of the Voters’ League. She held a brief job at Maxwell Air Force Base, which did not permit racial segregation because it was federal property. She rode on its integrated trolley. 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 and Parks was mentored by the veteran organizer Septima Clark.
In August 1955, black teenager Emmett Till was brutally murdered after reportedly flirting with a young white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi. In November 1955 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.
MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT
The Montgomery City Ordinance segregated bus passengers by race. The first four rows of seats on each Montgomery bus were reserved for whites. Buses had “colored” sections for black people generally in the rear of the bus, although blacks composed more than 75% of the ridership. The sections were not fixed but were determined by placement of a movable sign. Black people could sit in the middle rows until the white section filled; if more whites needed seats, blacks were to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Black people could not sit across the aisle in the same row as white people. The driver could move the “colored” section sign, or remove it altogether. Legally, no passenger would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available.
However, Montgomery bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move when there were no white-only seats left. If white people were already sitting in the front, black people had to board at the front to pay the fare, then disembark and reenter through the rear door. On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus, a General Motors Old Look bus belonging to the Montgomery City Lines. After working all day, around 6 p.m.,in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the “colored” section. Near the middle of the bus, her row was directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers. Initially, she did not notice that the bus driver was the same man, James F. Blake, who had left her in the rain in 1943. As the bus traveled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. The bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, and several white passengers boarded. Blake noted that two or three white passengers were standing, as the front of the bus had filled to capacity. He moved the “colored” section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit. Three of them complied. Parks moved, but toward the window seat; she did not get up to move to the redesignated colored section. Blake said, “Why don’t you stand up?” Parks responded, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” When Parks refused to give up her seat, Blake called a police officer who arrested her. Parks was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of the Montgomery City code although technically she had not taken a white-only seat; she had been in a colored section. Edgar Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and leader of the Pullman Porters Union, and her friend Clifford Durr bailed Parks out of jail that evening.
Montgomery City Ordinance segregated bus passengers by race. The first four rows of seats on each Montgomery bus were reserved for whites. Buses had “colored” sections for black people generally in the rear of the bus, although blacks composed more than 75% of the ridership. The sections were not fixed but were determined by placement of a movable sign. Black people could sit in the middle rows until the white section filled; if more whites needed seats, blacks were to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Black people could not sit across the aisle in the same row as white people. The driver could move the “colored” section sign, or remove it altogether. Legally, no passenger would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available. The Montgomery City Ordinance segregated bus passengers by race. The first four rows of seats on each Montgomery bus were reserved for whites. Buses had “colored” sections for black people generally in the rear of the bus, although blacks composed more than 75% of the ridership. The sections were not fixed but were determined by placement of a movable sign. Black people could sit in the middle rows until the white section filled; if more whites needed seats, blacks were to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Black people could not sit across the aisle in the same row as white people. The driver could move the “colored” section sign, or remove it altogether. Legally, no passenger would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available.
Parks did not originate the idea of protesting segregation with a bus sit-in. Those preceding her included Bayard Rustin in 1942. Irene Morgan in 1946, Lillie Mae Bradford in 1951 Sarah Louise Keys in 1952, and the members of the ultimately successful Browder v. Gayle 1956 lawsuit (Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith) who were arrested in Montgomery for not giving up their bus seats months before Parks. Nixon conferred with Jo Ann Robinson, an Alabama State College professor and member of the Women’s Political Council (WPC), about the Parks case. Robinson believed it important to seize the opportunity and stayed up all night mimeographing over 35,000 handbills announcing a bus boycott. The Women’s Political Council was the first group to officially endorse the 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. 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. She stated:
“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 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 did not wish 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.”
A bus boycott was subsequently organised in protest of Rosa Parks arrest and trial whereby people were asked not to travel by bus in Montgomery. Following 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. 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). 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.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) believed that she was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws. Parks’ prominence in the community and her willingness to become a controversial figure inspired the black community to boycott the Montgomery buses the first major direct action campaign of the post-war civil rights movement. Her 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. The Montgomery bus boycott continued 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.
Following her arrest, Parks became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. Her act of defiance and the Montgomery bus boycott became important symbols of the movement. However she suffered hardships as a result. Due to economic sanctions used against activists, she lost her job at the department store. Her husband quit his job after his boss forbade him to talk about his wife or the legal case. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP; and Martin Luther King, Jr., a new minister in Montgomery who gained national prominence in the civil rights movement and went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1957, Raymond and Rosa Parks left Montgomery for Hampton, Virginia; mostly because she was unable to find work. She also disagreed with King and other leaders of Montgomery’s struggling civil rights movement about how to proceed, and was constantly receiving death threats. her brother and sister-in-law in Detroit, Sylvester and Daisy McCauley asked them to join them, Rosa and Raymond Parks and her mother moved. In Hampton, she found a job as a hostess in an inn at Hampton Institute, a historically black college From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to John Conyers, an African-American US Representative. She was also active in the Black Power movement and the support of political prisoners in the US. After retirement, Parks wrote her autobiography and continued to insist that the struggle for justice was not over and there was more work to be done. Parks rendered crucial assistance in the first campaign for Congress by John Conyers. She persuaded Martin Luther King (who was generally reluctant to endorse local candidates) to appear with Conyers, thereby boosting the novice candidate’s profile.
When Conyers was elected, he hired her as a secretary and receptionist for his congressional office in Detroit. Parks often focused on socio-economic issues including welfare, education, job discrimination, and affordable housing. She visited schools, hospitals, senior citizen facilities, and other community meetings and kept Conyers grounded in community concerns and activism and held this position until she retired in 1988. Parks participated in activism nationally during the mid-1960s, traveling to support the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, the Freedom Now Party, and the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. She also befriended Malcolm X, who she regarded as a personal hero. Parks collaborated with members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the Republic of New Afrika in raising awareness of police abuse during the conflict. She served on a “people’s tribunal” on August 30, 1967, investigating the killing of three young men by police during the 1967 Detroit uprising. Parks took part in the black power movement, attending the Philadelphia Black Power conference, and the Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. She also supported and visited the Black Panther school in Oakland
During the 1970s, Parks organized for the freedom of political prisoners in the United States, particularly cases involving issues of self-defense. She helped found the Detroit chapter of the Joann Little Defense Committee, and also worked in support of the Wilmington 10, the RNA 11, and Gary Tyler case. Sadly Her husband died of throat cancer on August 19, 1977, and her brother, her only sibling, died of cancer November 1977. In 1980, Parks—widowed and without immediate family—rededicated herself to civil rights and educational organizations. She co-founded the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation for college-bound high school seniors. In February 1987 she co-founded, with Elaine Eason Steele, the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, an institute that runs the “Pathways to Freedom” bus tours which introduce young people to important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country.
Parks also served on the Board of Advocates of Planned Parenthood. In 1992, Parks published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography aimed at younger readers, which recounts her life leading to her decision to keep her seat on the bus. A few years later, she published Quiet Strength (1995), her memoir, which focuses on her faith. At age 81 Parks was robbed and assaulted in her home in central Detroit on August 30, 1994 by Joseph Skipper who was later arrested an imprisoned however she Suffered anxiety following the ordeal, and moved into Riverfront Towers, a secure high-rise apartment building. Learning of Parks’ move, Little Caesars owner Mike Ilitch offered to pay for her housing expenses for as long as necessary. In 1999 Parks filmed a cameo appearance for the television series Touched by an Angel. It was her last appearance on film; Parks began to suffer from health problems due to old age. A portion of United States Interstate 55 in St. Louis County and Jefferson County, Missouri, near St. Louis, was named the “Rosa Parks Highway”.
In 2002 Parks received an eviction notice from her $1,800 per month apartment for non-payment of rent. Parks was incapable of managing her own financial affairs by this time due to age-related physical and mental decline. Her rent was paid from a collection taken by Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit. When her rent became delinquent and her impending eviction was highly publicized in 2004, executives of the ownership company announced they had forgiven the back rent and would allow Parks, by then 91 and in extremely poor health, to live rent-free in the building for the remainder of her life.
In her final years, she suffered from dementia. Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. 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 them residents of Michigan or Alabama. Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, becoming the third of only four Americans to ever receive this honor. California and Missouri commemorate Rosa Parks Day on her birthday February 4, while Ohio and Oregon commemorate the occasion on the anniversary of the day she was arrested, December 1.