Rosa Parks

Women of the Civil Rights Movement

Rosa Parks on Bus in Montgomery, Alabama - 1956
Rosa Parks on Bus in Montgomery, Alabama - 1956. Courtesy Library of Congress

Rosa Park Facts:

Known for: civil rights activist, social reformer, racial justice advocate
Dates: February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks Biography:

Rosa Parks was born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her father, a carpenter, was James McCauley. Her mother, Leona Edward McCauley, was a schoolteacher.  Her parents separated when Rosa was only two years old, and she moved with her mother to Pine Level, Alabama.

 She became involved in the African Methodist Episcopal Church from early childhood.

Rosa Parks, who worked as a field hand, took care of her younger brother, and cleaned classrooms for tuition in her childhood.  She studied at the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls and then at the Alabama State Teachers' College for Negroes, finishing eleventh grade there.

She married Raymond Parks, a self-educated man, in 1932, and at his urging, she completed high school.  Raymond Parks was active in civil rights work, raising money for the legal defense of the Scottsboro boys.  In that case, nine African American boys were accused of raping two white women.  Rosa Parks began attending meetings about the cause with her husband.

Rosa Parks worked as a seamstress, office clerk, domestic and nurse's assistant. She worked for a while as a secretary on a military base, where segregation was not permitted, riding to and from her job on segregated buses.

She became a member of the Montgomery, Alabama, NAACP chapter in December, 1943, immediately becoming the secretary.   She interviewed people around Alabama on their experience of discrimination, and worked with the NAACP on voter registration and desegregating transportation.

She was key in organizing the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor, in support of a young African American woman who had been raped by six white men.

In the late 1940s, Rosa Parks was part of discussions within the civil rights activist circles about how to desegregate transportation. In 1953, a boycott in Baton Rouge succeeded in that cause, and the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education led to hopefulness for change.

On December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks was riding a bus home from her job, she sat in an empty section between the rows reserved for white passengers at the front and the rows reserved for "colored" passengers" at the back.  The bus filled up, and she and three other black passengers were expected to relinquish their seat because a white man was left standing. She refused to move when the bus driver approached them, and he called the police.  Rosa Parks was arrested for violating Alabama's segregation laws. The black community mobilized a boycott of the bus system which lasted for 381 days and resulted in the ending of segregation on Montgomery's buses.

The boycott also brought national attention to the civil rights cause and to a young minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King, jr.

In June, 1956, a judge ruled that bus transportation within a state could not be separated, and the U.S. Supreme Court later that year affirmed the ruling.

Rosa Parks and her husband both lost their jobs for being involved in the boycott.  They moved to Detroit in August of 1957, where the couple continued their civil rights activism.  Rosa Parks went to the 1963 March on Washington, site of the famous Martin Luther King, Jr, "I Have a Dream" speech.  In 1964 she helped elect John Conyers to Congress. She also marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

After the election of Conyers, Rosa parks worked on his staff until 1988.  Raymond Parks died in 1977.

In 1987, Rosa parks founded a group to inspire and guide youth in social responsibility. She traveled and lectured often in the 1990s, reminding people of the history of the civil rights movement.  She came to be called "the mother of the civil rights movement."

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

Rosa Parks continued her commitment to civil rights until her death, willingly serving as a symbol of the civil rights struggle. Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005, at her Detroit home of natural causes. She was 92.  After her death, she was the subject of almost a full week of tributes, including being the first woman and second African American who has lain in honor at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.