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Rosa Parks Biography

January 26, 2015

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African American activist Rosa Parks has been called "The Mother of the Freedom Movement" and "The First Lady of Civil Rights." Find out more about this incredible woman and her contribution to American History in her Kidzworld Bio!

Montgomery, Alabama

Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama but moved with her mother to just outside the city of Montgomery when she was a kid. She was of African American heritage, and in Alabama and other former confederate states the "Jim Crow Laws" had been passed at the beginning of the 20th century - these laws were seriously unfair to the African American community - it brought about "racial segregation" - meaning African Americans and white people weren't allowed to sit together, or use the same things. Public facilities like schools, retail stores and even services like public transportation were segregated. Buses and trains had separate seats for African Americans, and there were no school buses for African American children. 

Rosa Parks grew up walking to miles to school, while she would see white schoolchildren riding the bus there.

Rosa Parks on a Montgomery Bus the day it was desegregatedRosa Parks on a Montgomery Bus the day it was desegregatedCourtesy of United Press International

"I'd see the bus pass every day... But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world."

There was so much hatred for African Americans, her school was even set on fire twice! Things had to change, and Rosa didn't know it yet, but she was going to be a big part of that change.

In 1932 Rosa met her husband, Raymond Parks, he was a Barber who was involved with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and after going to one meeting she was made secretary of the group - because she was too shy to say no! During her time there, she saw firsthand that African Americans were being mistreated, disrespected and needed to have a say in government and society. Working at a Federal Airbase in Montgomery, she saw first-hand what an integrated workplace and transit system could look like - in her own city! While working as a housekeeper for a white couple, the Durrs, who believed in equality, she returned to school with their help and encouragement.

The Bus Boycott

The buses had been segregated for a long time in Montgomery, in fact the first four rows of every bus were reserved for white passengers, and conductors generally asked African American passengers to move to the back of the bus when a white passenger wanted a seat. In fact black passengers were asked to pay their fare through the front door and re-enter through the back! They couldn't even sit across from white people - and Rosa wasn't the only one to notice how ridiculous these rules were. One day in 1955, when Rosa was riding, the drive noticed white passengers standing, so he came to Rosa's seat and moved the "Colored" section sign back behind her.

She had had enough, and while other people moved she stood her ground (or sat her ground!)  When he asked her why she wouldn't stand up, she said she didn't think she should have to. When she refused to budge, he called the police and had Rosa arrested.

Rosa Parks being arrested for Civil DisobedienceRosa Parks being arrested for Civil DisobedienceCourtesy of ipdigital.usembassy.com

"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." 

She also said:

"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."

By December of that year, the Montgomery Bus Boycott's had began. Rosa asked every African Americanin Montgomery to refuse to ride the bus until there was equality. This is when a young Lawyer named Martin Luther King Jr. was named leader of The Montgomery Improvement Association. What started as a one day boycott turned into a 381 day boycott! As a respectable, educated woman Rosa was the perfect case to test the segregation laws in Alabama, and eventually the city caved on the bus laws because the boycott nearly put city buses out of business.

Rosa Parks changed the course of American HistoryRosa Parks changed the course of American HistoryCourtesy of thenation.com

Freedom Fighter

Rosa Parks had officially become a major player in the Civil Rights movement, but that didn't make it easy for her - she lost her job at the department store and her husband lost his as well. They packed up and moved to Detroit, where Rosa continued to see inequality. She got to work trying to make change in her new city. She became active in politics, working with a new Congressman to help make bigger changes, and was constantly fighting for the rights of political prisoners - she knew firsthand what they were going through!

Rosa Parks died at 92 years old in 2005, in the City of Detroit.

Have Your Say

What do you think about Rosa Parks? Let us know in the comments section below!