Rosa Louise McCauley Parks died on October 24, 2005 at the age of 92, she was an African-American Civil Rights activist, whom the United States Congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”.
Born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913, to Leona (née Edwards), a teacher, and James McCauley, a carpenter.
She was of African ancestry, though one of her great-grandfathers was Scots-Irish and one of her great-grandmothers was a slave of Native American descent. She was small as a child and suffered poor health with chronic tonsillitis.
When her parents separated, she moved with her mother to Pine Level, just outside the state capital, Montgomery. She grew up on a farm with her maternal grandparents, mother, and younger brother Sylvester.
In 1932, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. He was a member of the NAACP, which at the time was collecting money to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black men falsely accused of raping two white women.
Rosa took numerous jobs, ranging from domestic worker to hospital aide. At her husband’s urging, she finished her high school studies in 1933, at a time when less than 7% of African Americans had a high school diploma.
Despite the Jim Crow laws and discrimination by registrars, she succeeded in registering to vote on her third try. In the 1940s, Parks and her husband were members of the Voters’ League.
Sometime soon after 1944, she held a brief job at Maxwell Air Force Base, which, despite its location in Montgomery, Alabama, did not permit racial segregation because it was federal property.
She rode on its integrated trolley. Speaking to her biographer, Parks noted, “You might just say Maxwell opened my eyes up.” Parks worked as a housekeeper and seamstress for Clifford and Virginia Durr, a white couple.
Politically liberal, the Durrs became her friends. They encouraged—and eventually helped sponsor—Parks in the summer of 1955 to attend the Highlander Folk School, an education center for activism in workers’ rights and racial equality in Monteagle, Tennessee. There Parks was mentored by the veteran organizer Septima Clark.
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.
Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation. Others had taken similar steps, including Bayard Rustin in 1942, Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1952, and the members of the ultimately successful Browder v. Gayle lawsuit (Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith) who were arrested in Montgomery for not giving up their bus seats months before Parks.
As the bus Rosa was riding continued on its route, it began to fill with white passengers. Eventually, the bus was full and the driver noticed that several white passengers were standing in the aisle.
He stopped the bus and moved the sign separating the two sections back one row and asked four black passengers to give up their seats.
Three complied, but Rosa refused and remained seated. The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?” to which Rosa replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.”
The driver called the police and had her arrested. Later, Rosa recalled that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in.