Revered as one of the most influential people of the twentieth century by Time Magazine, Rosa Parks is best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956. Born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, Parks moved with an aunt to Montgomery and attended the Montgomery Industrial School for girls. Parks worked as a janitor each evening to support her private school education. Though she began Alabama State Teacher’s College High School, she dropped out to care for ill family members.
After marrying barber and local political activist Raymond Parks, Rosa joined Montgomery’s NAACP. An enthusiastic Parks served as youth director and later as the secretary. In addition, she became an advocate of desegregation and took pride in being a member of the organization that helped develop the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Inspired by African Americans who tested the effectiveness of the Brown decision, Parks on December 1, 1955, refused to offer her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white passenger after the “white only” section had filled. After being arrested and receiving a fourteen dollar fine, Parks called local NAACP president, E.D. Nixon, and informed him of her arrest. Within hours, the Women’s Political Council (WPC) printed flyers and brochures, phoned potential supporters and created carpools, marking the beginning of the 381 day Montgomery Bus Boycott. After a long protest, the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional in 1957.
Following the boycott, Parks moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she worked as an assistant to Detroit Congressman John Conyers. In 1987, she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, which teaches students about the black struggle for civil rights and encourages students to strive for success.
Parks received numerous honors, including over forty honorary degrees, the Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, and two NAACP image awards. The State of Michigan honors Parks each February 4 on Rosa Parks Day. In addition to authoring several books about her story, in 2002, Parks teamed up with CBS to produce a biographical film entitled “The Rosa Parks Story.”
On October 5, 2005 Rosa Parks passed away in Detroit.
Edna Chappell McKenzie, “Rosa Parks.” In Black Women in America: Social Activism, edited by Darlene Clark Hine (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1997); Lisa Hill, “Rosa Parks.” In African American Women: a Biographical Dictionary, edited by Dorothy C. Salem. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993); Rosa and Raymond Parks Institution for Self Development. http://www.rosaparks.org/bio.html (Accessed November 11, 2007).
University of Washington