Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the U.S. Congress called "the first lady of civil rights", and "the mother of the freedom movement.
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks, age 42, refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. While her action was not the first of its kind to impact the civil rights issue (see also Lizzie Jennings in 1854, Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, Claudette Colvin on the same bus system nine months before Parks), Parks' individual action of civil disobedience created further impact by sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Parks' act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.
At the time of her action, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for workers' rights and racial equality. Nonetheless, she took her action as a private citizen "tired of giving in". Although widely honored in later years for her action, she suffered for it, losing her job as a seamstress in a local department store. Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she found similar work. From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. After retirement from this position, she wrote an autobiography and lived a largely private life in Detroit. In her final years she suffered from dementia, and became involved in a lawsuit filed on her behalf against American hip-hop duo OutKast.
Parks eventually received many honors ranging from the 1979 Spingarn Medal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. Her death in 2005 was a major story in the United States' leading newspapers. She was granted the posthumous honor of lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.
Awards and honors
Parks received most of her national accolades very late in life, with relatively few awards and honors being given to her until many decades after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1979, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded Parks the Spingarn Medal, its highest honor, and she received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award the next year. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1983 for her achievements in civil rights. In 1990, she was called at the last moment to be part of the group welcoming Nelson Mandela, who had just been released from his imprisonment in South Africa. Upon spotting her in the reception line, Mandela called out her name and, hugging her, said, "You sustained me while I was in prison all those years. In 1992, she received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award along with Dr. Benjamin Spock and others at the Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.
On September 9, 1996, President Bill Clinton presented Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the U.S. executive branch. In 1998, she became the first recipient of the International Freedom Conductor Award given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The next year, Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch and received the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Freedom Award. Parks was a guest of President Bill Clinton during his 1999 State of the Union Address. That year, Time magazine named Parks one of the 20 most influential and iconic figures of the twentieth century. In 2000, her home state awarded her the Alabama Academy of Honor, as well as the first Governor's Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage. She was awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from universities worldwide, and was made an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
The Rosa Parks Library and Museum on the campus of Troy University in Montgomery was dedicated to her on December 1, 2000. It is located on the corner where Parks boarded the famed bus. The most popular items in the museum are the interactive bus arrest of Mrs. Parks and a sculpture of Parks sitting on a bus bench. The documentary Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks received a 2002 nomination for Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. She collaborated that year in a TV movie of her life starring Angela Bassett.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Parks on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
On October 30, 2005, President George W. Bush issued a proclamation ordering that all flags on U.S. public areas both within the country and abroad be flown at half-staff on the day of Parks' funeral.
Metro Transit in King County, Washington placed posters and stickers dedicating the first forward-facing seat of all its buses in Parks' memory shortly after her death, and the American Public Transportation Association declared December 1, 2005, the 50th anniversary of her arrest, to be a "National Transit Tribute to Rosa Parks Day. On that anniversary, President George W. Bush signed Pub.L. 109-116 , directing that a statue of Parks be placed in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. In signing the resolution directing the Joint Commission on the Library to do so, the President stated:
By placing her statue in the heart of the nation's Capitol, we commemorate her work for a more perfect union, and we commit ourselves to continue to struggle for justice for every American.
On February 5, 2006, at Super Bowl XL, played at Detroit's Ford Field, long-time Detroit residents Coretta Scott King and Parks were remembered and honored by a moment of silence. The Super Bowl was dedicated to their memory.
As part of an effort to shed the image left after the disastrous 1967 riot, in 1976 Detroit renamed 12th Street "Rosa Parks Boulevard.
In the Los Angeles County MetroRail system, the Imperial Highway/Wilmington station, where the Blue Line connects with the Green Line, has been officially named the "Rosa Parks Station".
Nashville, Tennessee renamed MetroCenter Boulevard (8th Avenue North) (US 41A and TN 12) in September 2007 as Rosa L. Parks Boulevard.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a plaza in the heart of the city is named Rosa Parks Circle.
On July 14, 2009, the Rosa Parks Transit Center opened in Detroit at the corner of Michigan and Cass Avenues.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
That evening, Nixon conferred with Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson about Parks' case. Robinson, a member of the Women's Political Council (WPC), stayed up all night mimeographing over 35,000 handbills announcing a bus boycott. The Women's Political Council was the first group to officially endorse the boycott.
On Sunday, December 4, 1955, plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott were announced at black churches in the area, and a front-page article in The Montgomery Advertiser helped spread the word. At a church rally that night, those attending agreed unanimously to continue the boycott until they were treated with the level of courtesy they expected, until black drivers were hired, and until seating in the middle of the bus was handled on a first-come basis.
Four days later, Parks was tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. The trial lasted 30 minutes. Parks was found guilty and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs. Parks appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. In a 1992 interview with National Public Radio's Lynn Neary, Parks recalled:
“ I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.
On Monday, December 5, 1955, after the success of the one-day boycott, a group of 16 to 18 people gathered at the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church to discuss boycott strategies. The group agreed that a new organization was needed to lead the boycott effort if it were to continue. Rev. Ralph David Abernathy suggested the name "Montgomery Improvement Association" (MIA). The name was adopted, and the MIA was formed. Its members elected as their president a relative newcomer to Montgomery, a young and mostly unknown minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That Monday night, 50 leaders of the African American community gathered to discuss the proper actions to be taken in response to Parks' arrest. E.D. Nixon said, "My God, look what segregation has put in my hands!" Parks was the ideal plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws. While the 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, unwed and pregnant, had been deemed unacceptable to be the center of a civil rights mobilization, King stated that Mrs. Parks was regarded as "one of the finest citizens of Montgomery—not one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery. Parks was securely married and employed, possessed a quiet and dignified demeanor, and was politically savvy.
Death and funeral
Parks resided in Detroit until she died of natural causes at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005, about 7:00 pm EDT, in her apartment on the east side of the city. She and her husband never had children and she outlived her only sibling. She was survived by her sister-in-law, 13 nieces and nephews and their families, and several cousins, most of them residents of Michigan or Alabama.
City officials in Montgomery and Detroit announced on October 27, 2005 that the front seats of their city buses would be reserved with black ribbons in honor of Parks until her funeral. Parks' coffin was flown to Montgomery and taken in a horse-drawn hearse to the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, where she lay in repose at the altar on October 29, 2005, dressed in the uniform of a church deaconess. A memorial service was held there the following morning. One of the speakers, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said that if it had not been for Parks, she would probably have never become the Secretary of State. In the evening the casket was transported to Washington, D.C., and taken, aboard a bus similar to the one in which she made her protest, to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol.
On October 28, 2005, the United States House of Representatives approved a resolution passed the previous day by the United States Senate to honor Parks by allowing her body to lie in honor in the Capitol. Since the founding of the practice of lying in state, or honor, in the Rotunda in 1852, Parks was the 31st person, the first American who had not been a U.S. government official, and the second non-government official (after Frenchman Pierre L'Enfant) to be paid this tribute. She was also the first woman and the second black person to lie in honor. An estimated 50,000 people viewed the casket there, and the event was broadcast on television on October 31, 2005. This was followed by another memorial service at a different St. Paul AME church in Washington on the afternoon of October 31, 2005.
For two days, she lay in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. Parks' funeral service, seven hours long, was held on Wednesday, November 2, 2005, at the Greater Grace Temple Church in Detroit. After the funeral service, an honor guard from the Michigan National Guard laid the U.S. flag over the casket and carried it to a horse-drawn hearse, which had been intended to carry it, in daylight, to the cemetery. As the hearse passed the thousands of people who had turned out to view the procession, many clapped and cheered loudly and released white balloons. Rosa was interred between her husband and mother at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery in the chapel's mausoleum. The chapel was renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel just after her death. Parks had previously prepared and placed a headstone on the selected location with the inscription "Rosa L. Parks, wife, 1913–.