Rosa Parks, famous for her refusal to relinquish her seat on a public bus which sparked the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, was an American Civil Rights activist.
Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Alabama. Her father, James McCauley, was a skilled stonemason and carpenter, and Leona Edwards McCauley was a teacher in Tuskegee, Alabama. She spent most of her childhood and youth suffering from chronic tonsilitis. Shortly after the birth of her younger brother, Sylvester, her parents decided to separate. Parks was two at that time. The children moved to their maternal grandparents’ farm in Pine Level, Alabama, near Montgomery, with their mother.
Rosa had to attend a segregated establishment when she joined the school in Pine Level.
Rosa Parks was educated at home by her mother for most of her childhood. She helped with chores on the farm and learned to cook and sew. Farm life was not all easy for her family. They had to face racist discrimination in violent ways. The Ku Klux Clan (KKK) was a constant threat. KKK was a U.S. hate organisation that employed terror in pursuit of white supremacist agenda. Parks’ grandfather kept watch at night with a rifle in his hand, awaiting a mob of violent men. Sometimes, Parks also joined her grandfather in the watch.
Rosa had to attend a segregated establishment when she joined the school in Pine Level. Under Jim Crow laws, public transportation, restaurants, drinking fountains and schools were segregated at that time. After that, she went to an industrial school for girls and later enrolled at Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes (present day Alabama State University). Unfortunately, she had to withdraw after her grandmother became ill. Her confrontation with discrimination and violence from a very young age inspired her to become active in the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1932, at the age of 19, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a local barber and a civil rights activist. He was actively fighting to end racial discrimination at that time. After the marriage, the couple worked with many organisations. In 1943 Rosa Parks became a member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and served as its secretary until 1956.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. At that time, front seats were designated for white people and the back seats for African Americans. Instead of going to the back of the bus, Parks sat in the front. When the bus started to fill with white passengers, the driver asked her to move. But Parks refused it and continued to sit in the front. This incident sparked one of the largest social movements in history, the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Many tried to downplay Parks’ role in the boycott by saying she did not move because she was tired. Parks denied these claims and said:
“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.”
Parks’ valiant effort led to the integration of public transportation in Montgomery. However, she also had to face the consequences. She was jailed for not giving up the seat and lost her job for participating in the boycott.
Parks and her husband moved to Hampton, Virginia, after the boycott before settling down permanently in Detroit, Michigan. Parks then concentrated on Detroit’s Civil Rights movement. She was a member of several organisations that tried to end discrimination in the city. She devoted herself to the movement and provided financial aid to campaigns.
By 1980, Parks, now widowed, suffered from health and financial troubles. She was nearly evicted from her house before local community members and churches came together to support her.
Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92.
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