Rosa Parks is known for touching off the Mont¬ gomery bus boycott in 1955 that led to the extreme popularity of Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.(see no. 91) and the mod¬ em civil rights movement. She was born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee,Alabama, and attended school throughout the state, living with relatives until her mother’s failing health begged her return.
In 1932, she married Ray¬ mond Parks and worked numerous odd jobs, join¬ ing the NAACP in the ear¬ ly 40s and acting as youth advisor and sec¬ retary for the Montgomery Chapter. She later joined State President Edgar Nixon and served as his office manager.
In December of 1955, when Rosa Parks, then a seamstress at a department store, refused to yield her seat on the bus to a white man as dictated by law. She was not the first woman to refuse to rise, but she was the first of impeccable reputation and upbringing.
While Rosa Parks was jailed on December 1, 1955, Edward Nixon’s friend Jo Ann Robinson was up all night with oth¬ er members of the Women’s Political Coun¬ cil, making the first flyers that announced a one day boycott of the Montgomery bus line on December 5, the day Rosa Parks was going to trial after being released on bail. Since 75 percent of bus riders were African- Americans, the financial repercussions were definitely damaging.
Robinson told Nixon of the plan while the flyers went up in African-American communities. When he told the NAACP that Rosa Parks, the mild, polite, well- dressed young secretary in Montgomery was arrested for refus¬ ing to forfeit her seat, they gathered together at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dexter Bap¬ tist Church and decid¬ ed that this would be the case they’d fight all the way to the US Supreme Court.
The Montgomery Improve¬ ment Association, head¬ ed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not only approved the boycott, but ensured that it lasted for 381 days, nearly crip¬ pling the bus line.
On December 5, Rosa Parks lost her court case, but won the sup¬ port of Montgomery’s African-American populace. As bus after bus ran through town without any black passengers, Parks’ case was appealed. Finally, on December 20, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the United States District Court ruling that segrega¬ tion on public buses was unconstitutional.
Rosa Parks had begun what has been called the most important American move¬ ment since Emancipation, but she was far from retiring. In 1957, Parks moved to Detroit, Michigan and worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Confer¬ ence, which annually sponsors the Rosa Parks Freedom Award. From 1957 to 1988, she assisted US Representative John Conyers, and in 1980 received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize.
In 1987, she established the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self- Development, which assists teenagers, and in 1990, was joined by 3,000 govern¬ ment and community leaders in honor of her 75th birthday at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.