February 4, 1913
Born In: Tuskegee, Alabama
Career: Civil Rights Activist
Rosa Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, who was later designated as the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement" by U.S Congress. Her official entry into the Civil Rights Movement was triggered by the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was a milestone in the movement, as it proved to be one of the largest movements against racial segregation. It even brought to light Martin Luther King Jr., involved with the boycott, who gained immense prominence in the civil rights movement. Apart from being an effective spokeswoman and activist, Rosa Parks also indulged in community service and upheld her lifelong commitment to civil rights and non-violent social change.
Childhood & Early Life
Rosa Parks was born as ‘as Rosa Louise McCauley’ in Tuskegee, Alabama, on 4th February 1913. She was the child of James McCauley and Leona Edwards, a carpenter and teacher respectively. During her childhood, she suffered from ill health and chronic tonsillitis. After the separation of her parents, Rose moved to the farm of her grandparents, with her mother, and began her lifelong membership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Till the age of eleven, she was home schooled by her mother and later, was sent to Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery. For secondary education, she went to Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes.
Adverse family conditions forced Rosa to drop out of college. In 1932, she got married to Raymond Parks, a barber in Montgomery. After her wedding, on her husband’s insistence, she completed her high school education in 1933. In December 1943, Rosa became active in Civil Rights Movement and was elected as the voluntary secretary to the President of NAACP. However, the turning point in her life arrived on 1st December 1955, when she was traveling by bus, sitting on the seats reserved for blacks. The white driver of the bus ordered her to give up her seat to the white passengers. On her refusal, the driver called the police and got her arrested.
Role in Civil Right Movement
The bus arrest case sparked off mass agitation from blacks and became a significant event in internationalizing the awareness towards the plight of African-Americans and the civil rights struggle. Subsequently, Rosa became an icon of the civil rights movement, but had to undergo suffering. She and her husband both lost their jobs and moved to Detroit, Michigan, in late 1957. In 1965, she became the secretary and receptionist of African-American U.S. Representative, John Conyers’ congressional office and continued till 1988, when she retired. In February 1987, Rose founded the ‘Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development’ in the memory of her husband, who died from cancer in 1977. The institute introduces young people to important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country.
Rosa Parks ended her earthly journey on 24th October 2005, at the age of ninety two. To commemorate her memory, all the front seats in the city buses were reserved with black ribbons, till her funeral. Her funeral took place at the Greater Grace Temple Church in Detroit on 2nd November 2005. At the funeral service, she was given an honor guard from the Michigan National Guard, which laid the U.S. flag over her casket. Rosa was interred between her husband and mother at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery in the chapel's mausoleum. The church was later renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel, in her memory.
Awards and Recognition
- In 1979, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded Rosa Parks its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal.
- In 1980, she received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
- In 1983, she was introduced into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, for her achievements in civil right
- In September 1996, US President Bill Clinton presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by U.S. Executive Branch
- In 1998, Rosa became the first to receive the International Freedom Conductor Award, given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
- In 1999, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. Legislative Branch, along with the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Freedom Award
- In 1999 itself, she was designated one of the ‘20 Most Influential and Iconic Figures of the Twentieth Century’ by the Time magazine.
- In 2000, she was awarded the Alabama Academy of Honor as well as the first Governor's Medal of Honor
- In September 1992, she was given the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award