Rosa Parks

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Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4 1913October 24 2005) was an African American civil rights activist and seamstress whom the U.S. Congress dubbed the "mother of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement".

Parks is famous for her refusal on December 1, 1955 to obey a bus driver's demand that she give up her seat to a white passenger. Her subsequent arrest and trial for this act of civil disobedience ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history, and launched Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the organizers of the boycott, to the forefront of the civil rights movement. Her role in American history earned her an iconic status in American culture, and her actions have left an enduring legacy for civil rights movements worldwide.


Early years

Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, the daughter of James and Leona McCauley, a carpenter and a teacher. Small even as a child, she suffered poor health and had chronic tonsillitis. When her parents separated, she moved with her mother to Pine Level, Alabama, just outside Montgomery. There she grew up on a farm with her maternal grandparents, mother, and younger brother Sylvester, and began her lifelong membership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her mother Leona homeschooled Rosa until she was eleven, when she enrolled in the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery, where her aunt lived, and took academic and some vocational courses. Parks then went on to a laboratory school set up by the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes for secondary education, but was forced to drop out to care for her grandmother, and later her mother after she grew ill.

Under Jim Crow laws, black and white people were segregated in virtually every aspect of daily life in the South, including public transportation. Bus and train companies did not provide separate vehicles for different races, but enforced seating policies that allocated separate sections for blacks and whites. School bus transportation, however, was unavailable in any form for black schoolchildren in the South. Parks recalled going to elementary school in Pine Level, where school buses took white students to their new school and black students had to walk to their school: “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.”

Though Parks' autobiography recounts that some of her earliest memories are of the kindness of white strangers, her situation made it impossible to ignore racism. When the Ku Klux Klan marched down the street in front of her house, Parks recalls her grandfather guarding the front door with a shotgun. The Montgomery Industrial School, founded and staffed by white northerners for black children, was burned twice by arsonists, and its faculty was ostracized by the white community.

In 1932, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery, at her mother's house. Raymond was a member of the NAACP, at the time collecting money to support the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black men falsely accused of raping two white women. After her marriage, Rosa took a number of 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 that made political participation by black people difficult, she succeeded in registering to vote on her third try.

In December 1943, Parks became active in the Civil Rights Movement, joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and was elected volunteer secretary to its president, Edgar Nixon. Of her position, she later said, “I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too timid to say no.” She would continue as secretary until 1957. In the 1940s, Parks and her husband were also members of the Voters' League. Sometime soon after 1944, she held a brief job at Maxwell Air Force Base, a federally owned area where racial segregation was not allowed, and rode on an integrated trolley. Speaking to her biographer, Parks noted, “You might just say Maxwell opened my eyes up.” Parks also worked as a housekeeper and seamstress for a white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The politically liberal Durrs became her friends, and encouraged Parks to attend, and eventually helped sponsor her at, the Highlander Folk School, an education center for workers' rights and racial equality in Monteagle, Tennessee, in the summer of 1955.

Civil rights activism

Events leading up to boycott

In 1944, athletic star Jackie Robinson took a similar stand in a confrontation with an Army officer in Fort Hood, Texas, refusing to move to the back of a bus. He was brought before a court-martial, which acquitted him.[1]

The NAACP had accepted and litigated other cases before, such as that of Irene Morgan ten years earlier, which resulted in a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court on Commerce Clause grounds. That victory, however, overturned state segregation laws only insofar as they applied to travel in interstate commerce, such as interstate bus travel. Black activists had begun to build a case around the arrest of a 15-year-old girl, Claudette Colvin, who had refused to relinquish her bus seat. Colvin was a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery. On March 2, 1955, she boarded a public bus. Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from the bus when she refused to give up her seat to a white man. She screamed that her constitutional rights were being violated. At the time, Colvin was active in the NAACP's Youth Council, a group to which Rosa Parks served as Advisor.

File:Rosaparks busdiagram.jpg
Seat layout on the bus where Parks sat, December 1, 1955.

Colvin recollected, "Mrs. Parks said, 'always do what was right.'" Parks was raising money for Colvin's defense, but when E.D. Nixon learned that Colvin was pregnant, it was decided that Colvin was an unsuitable symbol for their cause. Soon after her arrest she had been impregnated by a much older man, a moral transgression that scandalized the deeply religious black community. Strategists believed that the segregationist white press would use Colvin's pregnancy to undermine any boycott. Some historians have argued that civil rights leaders, who were predominately middle class, were uneasy with Colvin's impoverished background. Template:Fact The NAACP also had considered, but rejected, earlier protesters deemed unable or unsuitable to withstand the pressures of cross-examination in a legal challenge to racial segregation laws. Colvin was also known to engage in verbal outbursts and cursing. Many of the legal charges against Colvin were dropped. A boycott and legal case never materialized from the Colvin case law, and legal strategists continued to seek a complainant beyond reproach. [2]

In Montgomery, Alabama, the first four rows of bus seats were reserved for white people. Buses had "colored" sections for black people—who made up more than 75 % of the bus system's riders—generally in the rear of the bus. These sections were not fixed in size, but were determined by the placement of a movable sign. Black people also could sit in the middle rows, until the white section was full. Then they had to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Black people were not allowed to sit across the aisle from white people. The driver also could move the "colored" section sign, or remove it altogether. If white people were already sitting in the front, black people could board to pay the fare, but then had to disembark and reenter through the rear door. There were times when the bus departed before the black customers who had paid made it to the back entrance.

For years, the black community had complained that the situation was unfair, and Parks was no exception: "My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest…I did a lot of walking in Montgomery." Parks had her first run-in on the public bus on a rainy day in 1943, when the bus driver, James Blake, demanded that she get off the bus and reenter through the back door. As she began to exit by the front door, she dropped her purse. Parks sat down for a moment in a seat for white passengers, apparently to pick up her purse. The bus driver was enraged and barely let her step off the bus before speeding off. Rosa walked more than five miles home in the rain.

Bus protest and arrest

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Fingerprint card of Rosa Parks.

After a day at work at Montgomery Fair department store, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus at around 6 p.m., Thursday, December 1, 1955, in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "colored" section, which was near the middle of the bus and directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers. Initially, she had not noticed that the bus driver was the same man, James Blake, who had left her in the rain in 1943. As the bus traveled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. The bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, and several white passengers boarded. Following standard practice, Blake noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and there were two or three men standing, and thus moved the sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit. Years later, in recalling the events of the day, Parks said, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night."

By Parks' account, Blake said, "Y'all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats." [3] Three of them complied. Parks said, "The driver wanted us to stand up, the four of us. We didn't move at the beginning, but he says, 'Let me have these seats.' And the other three people moved, but I didn't." [4] The black man sitting next to her gave up his seat. Parks moved, but toward the window seat; she did not get up to move to the newly repositioned colored section.[5] Blake then said, "Why don't you stand up?" Parks responded, "I said I don't think I should have to stand up." Blake called the police to arrest Parks. When recalling the incident for Eyes on the Prize, a 1987 public television series on the Civil Rights Movement, Parks said, "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.'"

During a 1956 radio interview with Sydney Rogers in West Oakland several months after her arrest, when asked why she had decided not to vacate her bus seat, Parks said, "I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen of Montgomery, Alabama."

Parks also detailed her motivation in her autobiography, My Story[6]

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.

On October 31, 2005, Dr. Johnny Carr, a childhood friend of Rosa Parks, at Rosa Parks' memorial service at the AME church broadcast on CSPAN, said that Rosa would explain her resolve not to give up her seat on the bus by referring to her experience at Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. Mrs. Johnny Carr reported that Rosa Parks remembered that at Highlander, they would tell her, "You are a child of God; You can make a difference." According to Carr, Parks said that it was that thought that encouraged her to hold her ground when she was asked to move in that bus.

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Police report on Rosa Parks, December 1, 1955, page 1.

When Parks refused to give up her seat, a police officer arrested her. As the officer took her away, she recalled that she asked, "Why do you push us around?" The officer's response as she remembered it was, "I don't know, but the law's the law, and you're under arrest." She later said, "I only knew that, as I was being arrested, that it was the very last time that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind."

Parks was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of the Montgomery City code, even though she technically had not taken up a white-only seat—she had been in a colored section. E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr bailed Parks out of jail the evening of December 1. Nixon then persuaded her to allow her case to be used to challenge the city's bus segregation policy. That evening, Nixon conferred with Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson about Parks' case. Nixon also consulted African American attorney Fred Gray. Together, they agreed that a long-term legal challenge of bus segregation should be underscored by a one-day boycott of the bus system. Nixon and Robinson went about setting the boycott into motion that evening. Nixon spent the late evening talking and drawing up a list of prominent black leaders from Montgomery for support.

Four days later, Parks was tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. The trial lasted 30 minutes. Parks was found guilty and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs.[7] Parks appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. In a 1992 interview with National Public Radio's Lynn Neary, Parks recalled:

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.
File:Rosaparks policereport2.jpg
Police report on Rosa Parks, December 1, 1955, page 2.

On Monday, December 5, 1955, a group of 16 to 18 people gathered at the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church to discuss boycott strategies. The group agreed that a new organization was needed to lead the boycott effort if it were to continue. Rev. Ralph David Abernathy suggested the name "Montgomery Improvement Association" (MIA). The name was adopted, and the MIA was formed. Its members elected as their president a relative newcomer to Montgomery, a young and mostly unknown minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That Monday night, 50 leaders of the African American community gathered to discuss the proper actions to be taken in response to Parks' arrest. E.D. Nixon said, "My God, look what segregation has put in my hands!" Parks was the ideal plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws. While the 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, unwed and pregnant, had been deemed unacceptable to be the center of a civil rights mobilization, King stated that, "Mrs. Parks, on the other hand, was regarded as one of the finest citizens of Montgomery—not one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery." Parks was securely married and employed, possessed a quiet and dignified demeanor, and was politically savvy.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey fingerprints Parks on February 22, 1956 during the bus boycott arrests.

Sunday, December 4, 1955, plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott were announced at black churches in the area, and a front-page article in The Montgomery Advertiser helped spread the word. At a church rally that night, attendees unanimously agreed to continue the boycott until they were treated with the level of courtesy they expected, until black drivers were hired, and until seating in the middle of the bus was handled on a first-come basis.

The day of Parks' trial, Monday, December 5, 1955, the Women's Political Council distributed 35,000 leaflets urging blacks to boycott Montgomery public buses. The handbill read, "We are…asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial…. You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don't ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday."[8]

It rained that day, but the black community persevered in their boycott. Some rode in carpools, while others traveled in black-operated cabs that charged the same fare as the bus, 10 cents. Most of the remainder of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles. In the end, the boycott lasted for 381 days. Dozens of public buses stood idle for months, severely damaging the bus transit company's finances, until the law requiring segregation on public buses was lifted.

Segregationists retaliated with terrorism. Black churches were burned or dynamited. Martin Luther King's home was bombed in the early morning hours of January 30, 1956, and E.D. Nixon's home was also attacked. However, the black community's bus boycott marked one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation. It sparked many other protests, and it catapulted King to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.

Through her role in sparking the boycott, Rosa Parks played an important role in internationalizing the awareness of the plight of African Americans and the civil rights struggle. King wrote in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom that Parks' arrest was the precipitating factor, rather than the cause, of the protest: "The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices…. Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, 'I can take it no longer.'"

The Montgomery bus boycott was also the inspiration for the bus boycott in the township of Alexandria in South Africa which was one of the key events in the radicalization of the black majority of that country under the leadership of the African National Congress.

Browder v. Gayle

The Montgomery Sheriff's Department's photo of Rosa Parks, taken when she was booked on February 22, 1956.

Immediately after the initiation of the bus boycott, legal strategists began to discuss the need for a federal lawsuit to challenge city and state bus segregation laws, and approximately two months after the boycott began, they reconsidered Claudette Colvin's case. Attorneys Fred Gray, E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr (a white lawyer who, with his wife, Virginia, was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and a former employer of Parks) searched for the ideal case law to challenge the constitutional legitimacy of city and state bus segregation laws. Parks' case was not used as the basis for the federal lawsuit because, as a criminal case, it would have had to make its way through the state criminal appeals process before a federal appeal could have been filed. City and state officials could have delayed a final rendering for years. Furthermore, attorney Durr believed it possible that the outcome would merely have been the vacating of Parks' conviction, with no changes in segregation laws.[9]

Gray researched for a better lawsuit, consulting with NAACP legal counsels Robert Carter and Thurgood Marshall, who would later become U.S. solicitor general and a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Gray approached Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, all women who had had disputes involving the Montgomery bus system the previous year. They all agreed to become plaintiffs in a civil action law suit. Browder was a Montgomery housewife, Gayle the mayor of Montgomery. February 1, 1956, the case of Browder v. Gayle was filed in U.S. District Court by Fred Gray. It was Browder v. Gayle that brought segregation to an end on public buses.[10]

June 19, 1956, the U.S. District Court's three-judge panel ruled that Section 301 (31a, 31b and 31c) of Title 48, Code of Alabama, 1940, as amended, and Sections 10 and 11 of Chapter 6 of the Code of the City of Montgomery, 1952, "deny and deprive plaintiffs and other Negro citizens similarly situated of the equal protection of the laws and due process of law secured by the Fourteenth Amendment" (Browder v. Gayle, 1956). The court essentially decided that the precedent of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) could be applied to Browder v. Gayle. November 13, 1956, the United States Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation on buses, deeming it unconstitutional. The court order arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, December 20, 1956, and the bus boycott ended the next day. However, more violence erupted following the court order, as snipers fired into buses and into King's home, and terrorists threw bombs into churches and into the homes of many church ministers.[11]

Later years

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Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated. Behind Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter covering the event.

After her arrest, Parks became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, but suffered hardships as a result. She lost her job at the department store, and her husband quit his job after his boss forbade him from talking about his wife or the legal case. Parks traveled and spoke extensively. In 1957, Raymond and Rosa Parks left Montgomery for Hampton, Virginia—mostly because she was unable to find work, but also because of disagreements with King and other leaders of Montgomery's struggling civil rights movement. In Hampton, she found a job as a hostess in an inn at black Hampton Institute. Later that year, at the urging of her younger brother Sylvester, Parks, her husband Raymond, and her mother Leona McCauley moved to Detroit, Michigan.

File:Rosaparks 1964.jpg
Rosa Parks in 1964.

Parks worked as a seamstress until 1965, when African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) hired her as a secretary and receptionist for his congressional office in Detroit. She held this position until she retired in 1988.Template:Ref label In a telephone interview with CNN on October 24 2005, Conyers recalled, "You treated her with deference because she was so quiet, so serene—just a very special person…. There is only one Rosa Parks." Later in life, Parks also served as a member of the Board of Advocates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Rosa Parks and Elaine Eason Steele co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development in February 1987, in honor of Rosa's husband, who died from cancer in 1977. The institute runs the "Pathways to Freedom" bus tours, which introduce young people to important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country. On a 1997 trip, the Pathways to Freedom bus drove into a river, resulting in the death of Adisa Foluke. Foluke, who was referred to as Parks' adopted grandson, also had been a chaperon on the bus. Several others were injured.

In 1992, Parks published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography aimed at younger readers which details her life leading up to her decision not to give up her seat. In 1995, she published her memoirs, titled Quiet Strength, which focuses on the role that her faith had played in her life.

August 30, 1994, Joseph Skipper, a drug addict, attacked the then 81-year-old Parks in her home. The incident sparked outrage throughout America. After his arrest, Skipper said that he had not known he was in Parks' home, but recognized her after entering. Skipper asked, "Hey, aren't you Rosa Parks?" to which she replied, "Yes." She handed him $3 when he demanded money, and an additional $50 when he demanded more. Before fleeing, Skipper struck Parks in the face.[12] Skipper was arrested and charged with various breaking and entering offenses against Parks and other neighborhood victims. He admitted guilt and, on August 8, 1995, was sentenced to eight to 15 years in prison.[13]

A comedic scene in the 2002 film Barbershop featured a cantankerous barber, played by Cedric the Entertainer, arguing with co-workers and shop patrons that other African Americans before Parks had resisted giving up their seats in defiance of Jim Crow laws, and that she had received undeserved fame because of her status as an NAACP secretary. Activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton launched a boycott against the film, contending it was "disrespectful", but then NAACP president Kweisi Mfume stated he thought the controversy was "overblown."[14] The scene also offended Parks, who boycotted the NAACP 2003 Image Awards ceremony, which Cedric hosted. "Barbershop" received nominations in four awards categories that, including a "Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture" nomination for Cedric. He did not win in that category, however, but won an award for his work as a supporting actor in the television series The Proud Family.


In March 1999, a lawsuit was filed on Parks' behalf against American hip-hop duo OutKast and LaFace Records, claiming that the group had illegally used Rosa Parks' name without her permission for the song "Rosa Parks", the most successful radio single of OutKast's 1998 album Aquemini. The song's chorus, which Parks' legal defense felt was disrespectful to Parks, is as follows: "Ah ha, hush that fuss / Everybody move to the back of the bus / Do you wanna bump and slump with us / We the type of people make the club get crunk."

The case was dismissed in November 1999 by US District Court Judge Barbara Hackett. In August 2000, Parks hired attorney Johnnie Cochran to help her appeal the district court's decision. Cochran argued that the song did not have First Amendment protection because, although its title carried Parks' name, its lyrics were not about her. However, U.S. District Judge Barbara Hackett upheld OutKast's right to use Parks' name in November 1999, and Parks took the case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where some charges were remanded for further trial.

Parks' attorneys and caretaker, Elaine Steele, refiled in August 2004, and named BMG, Arista Records and LaFace Records as the defendants, along with several parties not directly connected to the song, including Barnes & Noble and Borders Group for selling the song, and Gregory Dark and Braddon Mendelson, the director and producer, respectively, of the 1998 music video, asking for $5 billion in damages.

In October 2004, U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh appointed Dennis Archer, a former mayor of Detroit and Michigan Supreme Court justice, as guardian of legal matters for Parks after her family expressed concerns that her caretakers and her lawyers were pursuing the case based on their own financial interest.[15] "My auntie would never, ever go to this length to hurt some young artists trying to make it in the world," Parks' niece Rhea McCauley said in an Associated Press interview. "As a family, our fear is that during her last days Auntie Rosa will be surrounded by strangers trying to make money off of her name."[16]

The lawsuit was settled April 15, 2005. In the settlement agreement, OutKast and their producers and record labels paid Parks an undisclosed cash settlement and agreed to work with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development in creating educational programs about the life of Rosa Parks. The record labels and OutKast admitted to no wrongdoing. It is not known whether Parks' legal fees were paid for from her settlement money or by the record companies.[17]

Death and funeral

Rosa Parks resided in Detroit until she died at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005, at about 19:00 EDT, in her apartment on the east side of the city. She had been diagnosed with progressive dementia in 2004.

Parks' coffin was taken to the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Montgomery, Alabama, in a horse-drawn hearse, where she lay in repose at the altar, dressed in the uniform of a church deaconess, on Saturday, October 29. A memorial service was held there the following morning, and in the evening the casket was transported to Washington, D.C., aboard a bus similar to the one in which she made her protest, and placed in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. An estimated 50,000 people viewed the casket there, and the event was broadcast on television on October 31. This was followed by another memorial service at a different St. Paul AME church in Washington on the afternoon of Monday, October 31. From Monday to Wednesday morning, she lay in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. The funeral was held on Wednesday, November 2, at the Greater Grace Temple Church.

The funeral was scheduled to last three hours, but it started an hour late, and because of the many speakers and the length of the speeches, it went on for seven hours, well into the night. As a result, it was only televised in full by few stations outside of Detroit.

One of the speakers at the Montgomery, Alabama memorial was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Dr. Rice said that if it were not for Rosa Parks, she would probably have never become the Secretary of State.

After the funeral service ended, an honor guard from the Michigan National Guard laid the U.S. flag over the casket and carried it to a horse-drawn hearse, which was intended to carry it, in daylight, to the cemetery. However, after the hearse had traveled fewer than two blocks in the dark, the casket was transferred to a motor hearse in the interest of time and safety. One reporter commented that the lights outside the nighttime motorcade made it look as if it were glowing. As the hearse passed the thousands of people who had turned out to view the procession, many clapped and released white balloons.

Rosa was interred between her husband and mother at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery in the chapel's mausoleum. (The chapel was renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel just after her death.)[18] City officials in Montgomery and Detroit announced on October 27 that the front seats of their city buses would be reserved with black ribbons in honor of Parks until her funeral. Parks had previously prepared and placed a headstone on the selected location with the inscription "Rosa L. Parks, wife, 1913–".

Awards and honors

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Rosa Parks with the NAACP's highest award, the Springarn Medal, in 1979.
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The Rosa Parks Congressional Gold Medal bears the legend "Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement".

Parks received most of her national accolades very late in life, with relatively few awards and honors being given to her until many decades after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1979, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded Parks the Spingarn Medal, its highest honor, and she received the Martin Luther King Sr. Award the next year. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1983 for her achievements in civil rights. In 1990, she was called at the last moment to be part of the group welcoming Nelson Mandela, who had just been released from his imprisonment in South Africa. Upon spotting her in the reception line, Mandela called out her name and, hugging her, said, "You sustained me while I was in prison all those years." [19]

Parks received the Rosa Parks Peace Prize in 1994 in Stockholm, Sweden, followed by the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the U.S. executive branch, in 1996. President Bill Clinton presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rosa Parks on September 9, 1996. In 1998, she became the first recipient of the International Freedom Conductor Award given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The next year, Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch. She also received the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Freedom Award, and was a guest of President Bill Clinton during his 1999 State of the Union Address. Also that year, Time magazine named Parks one of the 20 most influential and iconic figures of the twentieth century.[20] In 2000, her home state awarded her the Alabama Academy of Honor, as well as the first Governor's Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage. She was also awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from universities worldwide, and was made an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

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The No. 2857 (GM serial number 1132, coach ID #2857) bus, which Rosa Parks was riding on before she was arrested, is now a museum exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, was dedicated to her in November 2001. It is located on the corner where Parks boarded the famed bus. The most popular item in the museum is a sculpture of Parks sitting on a bus bench. The documentary "Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks" received a 2002 nomination for Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. She also collaborated that year in a TV movie of her life starring Angela Bassett.

The United States Senate passed a resolution on October 27, 2005 to honor Parks by allowing her body to lie in honor (also known as "lie in state") in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. The House of Representatives approved the resolution on October 28. Since the founding of the practice of lying in state in the Rotunda in 1852, Parks was the 31st person, the first woman, the first American who had not been a U.S. government official, and the second non-government official (after Frenchman Pierre L'Enfant). She was also the second black person to lie in state, after Jacob Chestnut, one of the two United States Capitol Police officers who were fatally shot by Russell Eugene Weston Jr. on July 24, 1998. Former President Ronald Reagan was the last person to lie in state in the Rotunda, in 2004.

On October 30, President George W. Bush issued a Proclamation ordering that all flags on US public areas be flown at half staff. The proclamation stated:

As a mark of respect for the memory of Rosa Parks, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, that on the day of her interment, the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset on such day. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same period at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

Metro Transit in King County, Washington placed stickers[21] dedicating the first forward-facing seat of all its buses in Parks' memory shortly after her death, and the American Public Transportation Association declared December 1, 2005, the 50th anniversary of her arrest, to be a "National Transit Tribute to Rosa Parks Day". [22]

Latest news

President Bush Signs H.R. 4145

On December 1, 2005, President George W. Bush signed H. R. 4145 to place a statue of the late Civil Rights activist Mrs. Rosa Parks in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. In signing the resolution directing the Joint Commission on the Library, the President stated:

By placing her statue in the heart of the nation's Capitol, we commemorate her work for a more perfect union, and we commit ourselves to continue to struggle for justice for every American.

The entire text of the ceremony is now available. [23]

Debated aspects of Parks

While few historians doubt Parks’ contribution to the Civil Rights movement or the bravery of her refusal, some have questioned some of the more mythic elements of her story. Among the issues:

  • Standard accounts of Parks’ act of civil disobedience in 1955 refer to her simply as a "tired seamstress". Parks stated in her autobiography, My Story, that it was not true that she was physically tired but was "tired of giving in".
  • Also, some accounts downplay her prior involvement with the NAACP and the Highlander Folk School, portraying her as an individual with no particular political background or training.
  • Many accounts fail to clarify: she was sitting in the 'colored' section of the bus. With the 'white' section full, a white man wanted her to give up her seat. That is, it was not a matter of protest on any level when she sat down; the protest was in her refusal to give up a seat in the 'colored' section. Mrs. Parks was on the Cleveland Avenue bus on December 1, 1955. Bus driver James Blake had demanded that four blacks give up their seats in the middle section so a lone white man could sit. Three of them complied. When recalling the incident for Eyes on the Prize, a 1987 public television series on the civil rights movement, Parks said, " When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, 'No, I'm not'. And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.' "
  • Parks was not the first African American to refuse to give up her seat to a white person. The NAACP accepted and litigated other cases before, such as that of Irene Morgan, ten years earlier, which resulted in a victory in the Supreme Court on Commerce Clause grounds. That victory only overturned state segregation laws as applied to actual travel in interstate commerce, such as interstate bus travel. Black leaders had begun to build a case around a 15-year-old girl's arrest for refusing to relinquish her bus seat, and Mrs. Parks had been among those who were raising money for the girl's defense. However, when they learned that the girl was pregnant, they decided that she was an unsuitable symbol for their cause. Dr. King said, "Mrs. Parks, on the other hand, was regarded as one of the finest citizens of Montgomery -- not one of the finest Negro citizens -- but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery."
  • The Rosa Parks case is considered the landmark because it applied to all segregationist laws, not just those affecting interstate commerce.
  • The NAACP had additionally considered but rejected some earlier protesters deemed unable or unsuitable to withstand the pressure of a legal challenge to segregation laws (see Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith). The selection of Parks for a test case supported by the NAACP has been speculated to be in part because she was employed by the NAACP.
  • A scene in the 2002 film Barbershop, where characters discuss earlier instances of African-Americans refusing to give up their bus seats, caused activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to launch a boycott against the film. The scene showed a barber arguing that many other African Americans before Parks had resisted giving up their seats; but because of her status as an NAACP secretary, she received undeserved fame.


  1. ^  "Jackie Robinson Profile",
  2. ^  "Is Barbershop Right About Rosa Parks?", Slate, September 27 2005
  3. ^  "Parks Recalls Bus Boycott, Excerpts from an interview with Lynn Neary", NPR, 1992
  4. ^  "Civil rights icon Rosa Parks dies at 92",, October 25 2005
  5. ^  Audio interview of Parks linked to from "Civil Rights Icon Rosa Parks Dies", National Public Radio, October 25 2005
  6. ^  Template:Book reference
  7. ^  "Civil rights icon Rosa Parks dies at 92",, October 25 2005
  8. ^  "Heroes and Icons: Rosa Parks",, June 14 1999
  9. ^  "The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott", Montgomery Advertiser, 2005
  10. ^  "Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks",, 2005
  11. ^ Template:Note label "Rosa Parks, 92, Founding Symbol of Civil Rights Movement, Dies", New York Times, October 25 2005
  12. ^  "Assailant Recognized Rosa Parks", Detroit Free Press, September 3 1994
  13. ^  "Man Gets Prison Term For Attack on Rosa Parks", San Francisco Chronicle, August 8 1995
  14. ^  Template:Web reference
  15. ^  "'I understand I am a symbol, but I have never gotten used to being a public person'", Associated Press State & Local Wire, December 4 2004
  16. ^  "Medical records show Rosa Parks had dementia as early as 2002", Associated Press State & Local Wire, January 13 2005
  17. ^  "Parks settles OutKast lawsuit", Detroit News, April 15 2005
  18. ^  "Parks to remain private in death", Detroit News, November 3, 2005
  19. ^  "Tri-state Judge Says Rosa Parks' Work Goes On", WPCO News, October 25 2005
  20. ^  "Rosa Parks: Her simple act of protest galvanized America's civil rights revolution", Time, June 14 1999
  21. ^  "Rosa Parks Honored on Metro Bus Fleet", King County Metro Online
  22. ^  National Transit Tribute to Rosa Parks Day, American Public Transportation Association, accessed December 1, 2005.
  23. ^  Template:Web reference


  • "The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott" by Ken Hare, Montgomery Advertiser, October 2005, retrieved November 5 2005
  • "Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks" by Tim Walker,, retrieved October 27 2005
  • "Heroes and Icons: Rosa Parks" by Rita Dove,, June 14 1999, retrieved October 29 2005
  • "Civil rights icon Rosa Parks dies at 92" by, October 25 2005, retrieved October 27 2005
  • "Is Barbershop Right About Rosa Parks?" by Brendan I. Koerner, Slate, September 27 2005, retrieved October 27 2005
  • "Rosa Parks, 92, Founding Symbol of Civil Rights Movement, Dies" by E.R. Shipp, The New York Times, October 25 2005, retrieved October 27 2005
  • Editorial. 1974. "Two decades later." New York Times (May 17): 38. ("Within a year of Brown, Rosa Parks, a tired seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, was, like Homer Plessy sixty years earlier, arrested for her refusal to move to the back of the bus.")

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