Rosa Parks

Women of the Civil Rights Movement

Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks, at ceremony being awarded Congressional Gold Medal, 1999. William Philpott/Getty Images


Rosa Parks is known as a civil rights activist, social reformer, and racial justice advocate.  Her arrest for refusing to give up a seat on a city bus triggered the 1965-1966 Montgomery bus boycott.

Parks lived from February 4, 1913 to October 24, 2005.

Early Life, Work, and Marriage

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.

NAACP Activism

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.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

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.

After the Boycott

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.

Death and Legacy

Rosa Parks continued her commitment to civil rights until her death, willingly serving as a symbol of the civil rights struggle. Rosa Parks died of natural causes on October 24, 2005, at her Detroit home. 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.

Selected Rosa Parks Quotations

  1. I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.
  2. I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.
  3. The only tired I was, was tired of giving in. (on refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white male)
  4. I'm tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.
  5. People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
  6. I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move.
  7. Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it.
  8. I didn't want to pay my fare and then go around the back door, because many times, even if you did that, you might not get on the bus at all. They'd probably shut the door, drive off, and leave you standing there.
  1. My only concern was to get home after a hard day's work.
  2. Arrest me for sitting on a bus? You may do that.
  3. 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.
  4. I am a symbol.
  5. Each person must live their life as a model for others.
  6. 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.
  7. You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.
  8. Have you ever been hurt and the place tries to heal a bit, and you just pull the scar off of it over and over again.
  9. [F]rom the time I was a child, I tried to protest against disrespectful treatment.
  10. Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.
  11. God has always given me the strength to say what is right.
  12. Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.
  1. I do the very best I can to look ​upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day, but I don't think there is anything such as complete happiness. It pains me that there is still a lot of Klan activity and racism. I think when you say you're happy, you have everything that you need and everything that you want, and nothing more to wish for. I haven't reached that stage yet. (source)