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Subscriber: null; date: 16 August 2018

Parks, Rosa

Abstract and Keywords

Rosa Parks (1913–2005) was best known as an African American civil rights activist, who in 1955 refused to give up her seat to a White man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, leading to conviction for civil disobedience and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The 112th U.S. Congress celebrated her 100th birthday as National Day of Courage with a resolution recognizing her as the “first lady of civil rights” and the “mother of freedom movement” and commemorates her “legacy to inspire all people of the United States to stand up for freedom and the principles of the Constitution.”

Keywords: African-American rights activist, bus boycott, Civil Rights Movement, mother of Civil Rights Movement, National Day of Courage, Jim Crow Laws

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913–2005) was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, to parents who were a teacher and carpenter. Upon separation of her parents, she and her younger brother Sylvester were raised by their maternal grandparents and mother on a farm just outside the capital Montgomery; they were devout Christians of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) founded by free Blacks. Due to chronic childhood illness Rosa was homeschooled by her mother, later taking academic and vocational courses at the Industrial School Girls in Montgomery. She attended laboratory school, set up by Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes, for secondary education but failed to complete her studies because she cared for her ill grandmother (her mother died at age 92 in Detroit in 1979). In 1932, Rosa married Raymond Parks. With his encouragement, she finished high school in 1933.

Parks, following her husband’s membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), joined the organization in 1943 and became Secretary to its President, Edgar Nixon. This lasted 13 years. Shortly after joining, in 1944, she worked on the un-segregated Maxwell Air Force Base. Equality on the job, the Jim Crow Laws in the South, the murder four days before of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was on vacation from Chicago, by White men, all sparked Parks’ rebellion not to give up her seat. Young Reverend M.L. King, Jr., President of the Montgomery Improvement Association and later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference aided the NAACPs’ campaign by encouraging non-violent ways to protest.

Parks spent most of her life fighting for justice, voting rights, and desegregation in the Civil Rights Movement, which paved the way to passage of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, 1964 and 1965. After her arrest, she was fired and her husband left his job due to conditions of employment; he did not discuss his wife’s legal situation. Subsequently, they moved out of Alabama and finally resided in Detroit, Michigan, near her brother and sister-in-law, Sylvester and Daisy McCauley in 1957; initially Mrs. Parks was a seamstress and, commencing in 1965, served as Secretary/Receptionist for John Conyers, an African-American U.S. Representative, for 25 years.

Parks was presented with numerous awards for her achievements: Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, Spingarn Medal, ML King, Jr., and Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Touched by an Angel). Others included Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Award, State of Alabama’s Governor’s Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage, honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and two dozen plus honorary doctorates. Rosa wrote her autobiography in 1992, Rosa Parks: My Story. Along with Elaine Eason Steel, in 1987, she started the still-in-existence Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.

Following Parks’ death she became the first woman and second African American whose body was approved by The House of Representative and the U.S. Senate resolution, signed by President George W. Bush, to lie in state in the Nations’ Capitol Rotunda with flags flown at half-staff. In 2006 President George W. Bush directed the Joint Commission on the Library to facilitate making a statute of Parks to be placed in the Capitol. Commemorating what would have been her 100th birthday, February 4, 2013, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled and issued the Rosa Parks Stamp at events at the Charles H. Wright African American History Museum in Detroit, MI, and The National Day of Courage celebration at Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI, where the restored Montgomery City-Bus No. 2857 has been displayed since 2003. On February 27, 2013, President Barack Obama and others unveiled the Rosa Parks bronze statute, wearing the clothes she had worn on the day she was arrested, which is now housed in the National Statuary Hall inside U.S. Capitol.