“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” –Rosa Parks
Rosa Louise McCauley was born on this day in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913. Today is the 100th anniversary of her birth.
Rosa’s father James was a carpenter and her mother Leona was a teacher. Her parents separated when Rosa was 2, and she moved with her mother a little brother Sylvester to Pine Level, Alabama (just outside the capital, Montgomery) to live with her maternal grandparents. He mother taught her to read. The segregated one room school-house she attended seldom had enough desks or other supplies. At 11 she went to the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, an institution a laboratory school set up by the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes and founded “liberal-minded women from the northern United States. The school’s philosophy of self-worth was …to ‘take advantage of the opportunities, no matter how few they were.'” [Achievement.org] She dropped out of the school to care first for her grandmother then her mother.
At 19 she married Raymond Parks and moved to Montgomery. Raymond encouraged Rosa to finish high school, and she earned her degree in 1933. The two were active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Raymond had been an active member when they met.) They worked to raise money to help defend the Scottsboro Boys and were members of the Voter’s League. Mrs. Parks managed to get her voter’s card (it took her three tries because of the Jim Crow laws in Montgomery.)
Rosa served as the chapter’s youth leader. And in 1944 she became the secretary to NAACP President E.D. Nixon—a post she held until 1957. (She recalls that they needed a secretary, she was the only woman there, and she was too timid to decline.)
“I worked on numerous cases with the NAACP,” Mrs. Parks recalled, “but we did not get the publicity. There were cases of flogging, peonage, murder, and rape. We didn’t seem to have too many successes. It was more a matter of trying to challenge the powers that be, and to let it be known that we did not wish to continue being second-class citizens.” [Rosa Parks quoted on Achievement.org]
On Thursday, December 1, 1955
Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus for home. She took a seat in the first of several rows designated for “colored” passengers. …As the bus Rosa was riding continued on its route, it began to fill with white passengers. Eventually, the bus was full and the driver noticed that several white passengers were standing in the aisle. He stopped the bus and moved the sign separating the two sections back one row and asked four black passengers to give up their seats. Three complied, but Rosa refused and remained seated. The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?” to which Rosa replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” The driver called the police and had her arrested. …The police arrested Rosa at the scene and charged her with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code. She was taken to police headquarters, where, later that night, she was released on bail. [biography.com]
On the day of her trial the NAACP and the Montgomery Improvement Association (with its new leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) organized a Bus Boycott. The
13-month mass protest that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. …The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed. In Stride Toward Freedom, King’s 1958 memoir of the boycott, he declared the real meaning of the Montgomery bus boycott to be the power of a growing self-respect to animate the struggle for civil rights. [Stanford.edu]
“At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this, … It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in.” –Rosa Parks
After her arrest Parks lost her job as a seamstress in a department store. “her husband was fired after his boss forbade him to talk about his wife or their legal case.” [biography.com] The couple was unable to find work and eventually they moved to Detroit, Michigan with Rosa’s Mother.
In Michigan Rosa Parks worked U.S. House of Representative John Conyer as a secretary and receptionist. In 1987 she helped found the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development which runs bust tours to civil rights and Underground Railroad sites for young people.
She published a biography, Rosa Parks: My Story and a memoir, Quiet Strength in the 1990s. In 1996 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton.
Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005 at the age of 93. She was honored by lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC.
Today, on the centennial of her birth the US Postal Service is releasing a Forever Stamp with her likeness.“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… and other people would be also free.” –Rosa Parks
- Happy 100th birthday Rosa Parks, you paved the way for blacks – and working women, too (Janita Poe) (al.com)
- Remembering the heroic stand of Rosa Parks on her birthday (news.yahoo.com)
- Photos: Rosa Parks’ 100th Birthday (abcnews.go.com)
- Rosa Parks The Story In Pictures (myspiritdc.com)
- Remembering Rosa Parks as We Celebrate Her 100th Birthday (hiphopandpolitics.wordpress.com)