Rosa Parks was born February 4, 1913. She spent her life fighting for equality and being an advocate for civil rights. Rosa is primarily known for her refusal to move from her seat on the city bus which leads to her arrest and the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. What is less known about her, is that before that event she spent the previous decade as an active member of the NAACP. She devoted much of her free time working to increase voter registration, and against segregation and violence against African Americans. This was before the Civil Rights Movement and very radical for the time. She was disheartened by the lack of involvement but nevertheless continued fighting. On December 1, 1955, Rosa was riding home from work when she was asked by the bus driver to move seats for a white man to sit down. She refused and was arrested. News of her arrest got around and in a short time, the Montgomery Bus Boycott started. She spent the boycott in more of an organizing role and as the distant symbol of the boycott, but never a leader. Rosa and her husband were both let go from their jobs and continually received death threats because of her involvement. They struggled to find work for many years. Finally, in 1957 they relocated to Detroit where her brother lived. She still had difficulty finding employment, but eventually got a position as a secretary for Congressman John Conyers Jr. Many of her friends were dismayed she was continuously overlooked for financial help and job placement within the civil rights movement, especially after she had dedicated so much to it. Activism was always a lonely job for Rosa and she felt the insolation for her entire life. Despite this, she continued working and after the Civil Rights Movement fought against the disparities in schools and housing, improvement of the criminal justice system, and co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. She also attended and was involved in many Black Power events and speeches. During her life, she was given multiple awards, including the Congressional Gold Medal. She died October 24, 2005, after suffering from dementia for the previous 3 years and became the first woman to be buried at the US capital.
What we often get wrong:
- Rosa Parks is often characterized as quiet and reserved. In contrast, she was very outspoken, especially against segregation and white supremacy.
- Her refusal to move seats is often recognized as the only thing she did. Rosa Parks was an active advocate for civil rights, her entire life. It began long before the Civil Rights Movement took place and continued well into the 1990s when many considered the movement a success.
- The iconic picture of her arrest was not taken when she was jailed for refusing to give up her seat. It was taken at a later date when over 100 other civil rights activist, along with Martin Luther King, were arrested for their role in the boycott.
“Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni retells the story of Rosa Parks as she sparks the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the events that follow.