Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist. She was later called the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement" by the U.S. Congress.
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. She was arrested and challenged the segregation order in court. Although it failed, her action was not the first of its kind: Irene Morgan, in 1946, and Sarah Louise Keys, in 1955, had won rulings before the Supreme Court and the Interstate Commerce Commission respectively in the area of interstate bus travel. But unlike these previous individual actions of civil disobedience, Parks' action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
"For a little more than a year, we stayed off those buses. We did not return to using public transportation until the Supreme Court said there shouldn't be racial segregation."
Parks's act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement, and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr. This helped launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.
Parks eventually received many honors ranging from the 1979 Spingarn Medal to the Congressional Gold Medal, a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall, and the posthumous honor of lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.
At the time of her action, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for workers' rights and racial equality. Nonetheless, she took her action as a private citizen "tired of giving in."
Although widely honored in later years for her action, she also suffered for it, losing her job as a seamstress in a local department store. Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she found similar work.
From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. She founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development to offer guidance to young African-Americans in preparation for leadership and careers. After retirement from this position, she wrote an autobiography and lived a largely private life in Detroit.
"I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people," said Rosa Parks on the occasion of her 77th birthday. And so she is. Her death in 2005 was a front-page story in the United States' leading newspapers.
Sources: National Women's Hall of Fame, Wikipedia.org
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