On this day in Black History one of the most influential people involved in the Civil Rights Movement was born. Her name was Rosa Parks and her stance against injustice helped spark a movement that helped country make one of its biggest steps towards racial equality.
Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama to James and Leona McCauley. She grew up on a farm with her grandmother, mother, and younger brother after her parents split up while she was still young. She attended small country schools until she was eleven years old and attended regular academic and vocational courses until gaining entry to a laboratory school set up by Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes. She dropped out shortly after admittance to care for her grandmother.
Parks grew up at a time in history were the racist Jim Crow laws were the authority in the south. Parks herself can recount a time where in elementary school she was unable to ride the school bus due to the color of her skin:
“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.”
In 1932, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. He was an active member of the NAACP who was at the time collecting money in support of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of Black men falsely accused of raping two white women. With motivation from her husband, Parks concluded her high school education in 1933. At that time less than 7 percent of African Americans had a high school diploma.
In December of 1943, Parks became an active member of the NAACP’s Montgomery chapter. She joined on as a secretary because she was “the only woman there…and [she] was too timid to say no”.
In 1944 Parks investigated the gang-rape of Recy Taylor, a black woman from Abbeville, Alabama. Parks along with other activists organized the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. The Chicago Defender called this “the strongest campaign for equal rights to be seen in a decade”.
In 1955, on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused the order of the white bus driver for her to leave her seat to allow for a white passenger to sit down. This ‘civil disobedience’ was heard round the world and the NAACP decided that this incident would be the catalyst for an entire movement against racial injustice. Rosa Parks quickly became an international symbol of resistance. Parks refusal to move lead to the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956 that lasted 381 days. After over a year of protest, the city of Montgomery, Alabama passed an ordinance allowing Blacks to sit virtually anywhere on a public bus.
Through this incident, Parks was able to collaborate with civil rights leader Edgar Nixon and a new minister in town by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. This particular moment in history is what helped to launch Dr. King’s career as a civil rights leader.
After the boycott, Parks moved to Detroit where from 1965 to 1988 she served as a secretary to John Conyers, an African American U.S. Representative. She was also active in the Black Power movement and the support of political prisoners in the US.
After her retirement, Parks wrote her autobiography and kept a very private life in Detroit. Park’s list of nation recognition for her work is as impressive as any. She has been awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1979, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Rosa Parks passed away in 2005 and was the first woman and third no-U.S. government official to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.