Rosa Parks (1913-2005)


A simple act of defiance in 1955 ignited the modern civil rights movement that earned Rosa Parks the title “mother of the civil rights movement.”

As a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama and an active member of the local NAACP chapter, Parks refused to give up her seat in the “assigned section” for blacks in the bus to a white man. This action led to her arrest that triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system organized by a little-known Baptist minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The modern civil rights movement had begun, finally culminating in the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act, which banned racial discrimination in public accommodations.

Speaking in 1992, Parks stated that her reasons for refusing to vacate her seat were misunderstood when people said, “that my feet were hurting and I didn’t know why I refused to stand up when they told me. But the real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long.”

In 1957, Parks and her husband moved to Detroit in search of employment and to escape the harassment and threats in Alabama. She worked for Congressman John Conyers until 1987, and then devoted much of her time to the Institute for Self-Development that she and her husband founded.

In 1996, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to civilians making outstanding contributions to American life. In 1999, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. On Sunday, October 30 and Monday, October 31, her body was laid in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, the first woman in history to be so honored by the required Act of Congress.


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