20 Facts About Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks has been called "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement," thanks to her courageous refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus in Alabama on December 1, 1955.
Her act of defiance, and the bus boycott that followed, became a key symbol of the American Civil Rights Movement. She worked with Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and Martin Luther King Jr., the new minister in town.
Below are my 20 facts about Rosa Parks.
1. Rosa Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a carpenter.
2. When her parents split, Parks went to live in Pine Level, just outside the state capital, Montgomery, with her mother. There were buses to take white children to school, but black students were expected to walk. Parks later recalled: "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."
3. Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from MontgomeryIn in 1932. He was a member of the NAACP and encouraged her to complete her high school education, which she'd dropped out of to care for her sick grandmother and mother.
4. In 1943 Rosa Parks joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and became active in the Civil Rights Movement. She worked there as a secretary for the local NAACP leader, E.D. Nixon.
5. Buses in Montgomery had been segregated according to race, ever since a law was passed in 1900. Over time, it became customary for drivers to ask black people to give up their seats when there were no seats left for whites and there were whites standing. Parks and other black people had complained for years that the situation was unfair.
6. Rosa Parks had got into an argument with bus driver James F. Blake before, back in 1943 - she had left his bus and waited for another on that occasion - but on Thursday, December 1, 1955, she got into a dispute with Blake and refused to back down. The dispute was over Blake wanting to move the "colored section" back a row to accommodate more white riders, a common practice at that time. Parks declined to give up her seat, despite being threatened with arrest.
7. Parks was arrested and charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of the Montgomery City code. She later commented that: "I only knew that, as I was being arrested, that it was the very last time that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind..."
8. She was bailed from jail and plans were put together by Edgar Nixon and Jo Ann Robinson of the Women's Political Council (WPC) for a bus boycott of Montgomery buses in a protest against discrimination.
9. Parks was found guilty the next day of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs. She immediately challenged her conviction and the legality of segregation, launching an appeal.
10. It rained on the Monday of the bus boycott, but the protest was still an overwhelming success. Some of the black community shared cars, others rode black-operated taxis which only charged 10 cents, the standard price of a bus journey. Others walked to work, some traveling 20 miles or more.
11. After the success of the one day boycott, an organization called the "Montgomery Improvement Association" (MIA) was formed to co-ordinate further boycotts. The Reverent Martin Luther King Jr. was elected president of the new organization. He had only recently moved to Montgomery. Rosa Parks received a standing ovation when introduced at the first meeting.
12. Rosa Parks arrest was seen as an ideal test case for challenging the laws on segregation, as she was an upstanding citizen, happily married and gainfully employed, her personality was quiet and dignified.
13. The Montgomery Bus Boycott continued for 381 days and didn't end until the city repealed its segregation law. In the end the change happened, not because of the Parks case, which was stalled by appeals, or the damage to the finances of the bus company, but by a US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Browder v. Gayle that the segregation law was unconstitutional.
14. Martin Luther King Jr. later wrote about the importance of Rosa Parks in providing a catalyst for the protests, as well as a rallying point for those who were tired of the social injustices of segregation. 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.'"
15. Parks became an icon of the civil rights struggle in the years after the Montgomery boycott, a symbol of resistance against injustice, but she also suffered associated hardships. She lost her job and so did her husband, because of their political activities. She also received many death threats.
16. The couple moved to Virginia, before settling in Detroit. Although the city had a reputation for being progressive, Parks was critical of the effective segregation of housing and education, and the often poor local services in black neighborhoods.
17. Parks had a tough time in the 1970s. Many of her family were plagued with illness and she experienced multiple bereavements, including her husband and brother. She also experienced financial strain for the rest of her life, partly due to her giving away most of her money made from speaking to civil rights causes.
18. Rosa Parks died at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005. Her coffin was flown to Montgomery and taken in a horse-drawn hearse to the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, where a memorial service was held. The casket was then taken to Washington, D.C. and carried by a bus similar to the one in which she had refused to give up her seat. Her body then laid in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Her body then went back to Detroit, where is was eventually laid to rest in Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery.
19. President George W. Bush issued a proclamation ordering that all flags on U.S. public areas should be flown at half-staff on the day of Parks' funeral.
20. In 2013 Rosa Parks became the first African American woman to have her likeness depicted in National Statuary Hall, United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
© 2015 Paul Goodman