It’s Women’s History Month and we couldn’t be happier! All month long, we will celebrate great women across the globe who have created or are still creating change. Who best to begin with than the legendary Rosa Parks? Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. The United States Congress has called her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”.
Who Was Rosa Parks?
Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 – 24 October 2005) was a civil rights leader whose refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As the first woman to do this, her bravery led to nationwide efforts to end racial segregation. Rosa Parks was awarded the King Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal as a result of standing up for herself and consequently black people in America.
Early Life and Family
Rosa Parks was b0rn in Tuskegee Alabama. Her childhood brought her early experiences with racial discrimination and activism for racial equality. In one experience, Parks’ grandfather stood in front of their house with a shotgun while Ku Klux Klan members marched down the street. She schooled in a segregated school which lacked adequate educational supplies. She stopped school at 11th grade and started work in a shirt factory. In 1932, at the age of 19, Rosa got married to an active member of the NAACP – Raymond Parks.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing a bus driver’s instructions to give up her seat to a white passenger. She later recalled that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in. The Montgomery City Code required that all public transportation be segregated and that bus drivers had the “powers of a police officer of the city while in actual charge of any bus for the purposes of carrying out the provisions” of the code.
On that iconic day, three of the other black passengers on the bus Rosa Parks was in, complied with the driver, but Parks refused and remained seated. The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?” to which Parks replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” The driver called the police and had her arrested. The police arrested Parks at the scene and charged her with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code. She was taken to police headquarters, where, later that night, she was released on bail.
How Rosa Parks Inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Members of the African American community were asked to stay off city buses on Monday, December 5, 1955 — the day of Rosa Parks’ trial — in protest of her arrest. People were encouraged to stay home from work or school, take a cab or walk to work. With most of the African American community not riding the bus, organizers believed a longer boycott might be successful. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, as it came to be known, was a huge success, lasting for 381 days and ending with a Supreme Court ruling declaring segregation on public transit systems to be unconstitutional.
In 1987, with longtime friend Elaine Eason Steele, Parks founded the Parks and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The organization runs “Pathways to Freedom” bus tours, introducing young people to important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country.
For her bravery and strong sense of self, we celebrate Rosa Parks this #WomensHistoryMonth even as she encourages us to stay bold, determined and resilient in all we do.