The Courageous Rosa Parks

Rosa Park and Rev. Martin Luther King

Rosa Park and Rev. Martin Luther King

Most historians date the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States to December 1, 1955.  That was the day when an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.

This brave woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere.

Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama to James McCauley, a carpenter, and Leona McCauley, a teacher. At the age of two she moved to her grandparents’ farm in Pine Level, Alabama with her mother and younger brother, Sylvester.

At the age of 11 she enrolled in the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private school founded by liberal-minded women from the northern United States.

The school’s philosophy of self-worth was consistent with Leona McCauley’s advice to “take advantage of the opportunities, no matter how few they were.”

Opportunities were few indeed. “Back then,” Mrs. Parks recalled in an interview, “we didn’t have any civil rights. It was just a matter of survival, of existing from one day to the next. I remember going to sleep as a girl hearing the Klan ride at night and hearing a lynching and being afraid the house would burn down.”

In the same interview, she cited her lifelong acquaintance with fear as the reason for her relative fearlessness in deciding to appeal her conviction during the bus boycott. “I didn’t have any special fear,” she said. “It was more of a relief to know that I wasn’t alone.”

After attending Alabama State Teachers College, the young Rosa settled in Montgomery, with her husband, Raymond Parks. The couple joined the local chapter of the NAACP and worked quietly for many years to improve the lot of African-Americans in the segregated south.

“I worked on numerous cases with the NAACP,” Mrs. Parks recalled, “but we did not get the publicity. There were cases of flogging, peonage, murder, and rape. We didn’t seem to have too many successes. It was more a matter of trying to challenge the powers that be, and to let it be known that we did not wish to continue being second-class citizens.”

The bus incident led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The association called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company. The boycott lasted 382 days and brought Mrs. Parks, Dr. King, and their cause to the attention of the world.  A Supreme Court Decision struck down the Montgomery ordinance under which Mrs. Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.

In 1957, Mrs. Parks and her husband moved to Detroit, Michigan where Mrs. Parks served on the staff of U.S. Representative John Conyers.  The Southern Christian Leadership Council established an annual Rosa Parks Freedom Award in her honor.

After the death of her husband in 1977, Mrs. Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The Institute sponsors an annual summer program for teenagers called Pathways to Freedom. The young people tour the country in buses, under adult supervision, learning the history of their country and of the civil rights movement.

President Clinton presented Rosa Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. She received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

Mrs. Parks spent her last years living quietly in Detroit, where she died in 2005 at the age of 92.

After her death, her casket was placed in the rotunda of the United States Capitol for two days, so the nation could pay its respects to the woman whose courage had changed the lives of so many. She is the only woman and second African American in American history to lie in state at the Capitol, an honor usually reserved for Presidents of the United States.

32 Responses to “The Courageous Rosa Parks”

  1. December 01, 2013 at 11:12 pm, Jamie said:

    Rosa Parks – amazing woman. We owe so much to her.

  2. December 01, 2013 at 11:46 pm, Mac said:

    you can still see the bus in the Henry Ford museum.

  3. December 02, 2013 at 1:37 am, Dr. Michael Haley said:

    It is CRAZY that there was such segregation. Rosa Parks fought the good fight.Thank God for her.

  4. December 02, 2013 at 2:06 am, Daniel said:

    Its amazing to see how far we’ve come in terms of equal rights, but problems still persist, such as with income inequality. Rosa was truly an amazing person, and an inspiration to the world!

  5. December 02, 2013 at 2:11 am, Harold Gardner said:

    An amazing lady whose humility guided her sense of right. With a simple act of righteousness, a simple lady changed the world.

  6. December 02, 2013 at 6:44 am, Rami Kantari said:

    Interesting post about the first lady of civil rights and the mother of the freedom movement.

  7. December 02, 2013 at 7:20 am, galey saints said:

    She’s truly one of the national heroes. Youth nowadays should make her an inspiration.

  8. December 02, 2013 at 11:33 am, Mithu Hassan said:

    As always enjoying your interesting post !! Thank you so much to share “With a simple act of righteousness, a simple lady changed the world.”

  9. December 02, 2013 at 2:23 pm, John Lawson said:

    It is all too easy to forget. My father was 33 by the time this happened and raised his first family under such conditions. If she hadn’t done what she did, who knows how his or my life would have been affected?

  10. December 02, 2013 at 3:07 pm, Charles Ray said:

    Seemingly insignificant acts by ordinary people can have earth-shaking consequences.

  11. December 02, 2013 at 3:16 pm, Shane Locker said:

    As a South African, who voted to abolish Apartheid and having heroes like Nelson Mandela, I can only but appreciate and love Rosa Parks

  12. December 03, 2013 at 5:32 am, Bill Whetstone said:

    Rosa had guts, a backbone and a family that raised her to believe in her self worth.

  13. December 03, 2013 at 6:02 am, Alyssa Smit said:

    Lovely Article

  14. December 04, 2013 at 11:37 pm, Jim said:

    It’s amazing that it has been so long and we still have so far to go. Thank you for recognizing her contribution and honoring the anniversary.

  15. December 05, 2013 at 4:43 am, Greg said:

    Amazing how one action can change the course of history

  16. December 05, 2013 at 4:44 am, Matt M said:

    We need more people like that today to get things moving. Thanks for the article!

  17. December 05, 2013 at 4:47 am, Scotty said:

    It’s thankful that people like Rosa exist to make the world a better place for Everyone to live

  18. December 05, 2013 at 5:13 am, Erik van Erne said:

    An amazing woman. Great article, thanks for sharing

  19. December 05, 2013 at 5:17 am, Bill Marsh said:

    Very nice.

  20. December 05, 2013 at 5:23 am, oscar said:

    great woman & legacy

  21. December 05, 2013 at 5:31 am, Irene said:

    Truly and inspiration and reminder that it does matter what we do and we can make a difference. Thank you for sharing. Great to read.

  22. December 05, 2013 at 6:16 am, Don Dobbie said:

    Civil rights are very important – thank you for sharing

  23. December 05, 2013 at 6:27 am, Stewart Marshall said:

    A courageous woman – a true inspiration 🙂
    Great article 🙂

  24. December 05, 2013 at 6:27 am, Terri Nakamura said:

    Fascinating post, Charlie. It’s so interesting to read what actual participants thought and felt at the time of such huge importance.

    I’m wondering if you’ve read David and Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell). There is a chapter on Martin Luther King Jr. that was mind boggling.

    Isn’t it incredible she lived to age 92? If you think of the changes that can happen in 10 years, it must have been amazing for her to live through 9+ decades.

    Thanks for another great piece.

  25. February 22, 2014 at 12:21 am, June Kellogg said:

    Rosa Parks is may favorite, very happy to read your blog content.
    June Kellogg

  26. February 24, 2014 at 5:52 pm, Thea Bredie said:

    Thank you for this informative short summary. A woman I admire!
    Thea Bredie.

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