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This Day In History: February 4th
Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks made history and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott after refusing to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions launched a successful nationwide effort to end racial segregation of public facilities.
Rosa Louise McCauley was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. She spent much of her youth growing up on a farm with her mother and grandparents. Both of her grandparents were formerly enslaved people and strong advocates for racial equality. She was taught to read by her mother and had to attend segregated schools that often lacked adequate school supplies.
At 19 years old, she married Raymond Parks, a barber and an active member of the NAACP. Parks graduated from high school and also joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. While working with the organization she served as the chapter’s youth leader and secretary to NAACP President E.D. Nixon.
On December 1, 1955, Parks was arrested for refusing a bus driver’s instructions to give up her seat to a white passenger. The police arrested Parks at the scene and charged her with a violation of the Montgomery City Code. This refusal would be the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The local NAACP began planning and by Monday, December 5, 1955, members of the African-American community were being asked to stay off city buses.
The boycott was a success that lasted for 381 days and ended with a Supreme Court ruling declaring segregation on public transit systems to be unconstitutional. Despite her bravery and victory for the African-American community, Parks struggled through many obstacles following the boycott. Parks and her husband were both fired from their jobs which forced the couple to relocate to Detroit, Michigan.
Parks was resilient and found work as a secretary and receptionist in former Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. In 1987 she established the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The organization introduces youth to important civil rights figures and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country.
In 1992, Parks published an autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, and three years later, she published Quiet Strength. Parks has received numerous accolades during her lifetime, including the Spingarn Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Parks died on October 24, 2005, in Detroit, Michigan. It is estimated that 50,000 people viewed her casket during the funeral service held for her at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. Her legacy has also been preserved with the creation of the Rosa Parks Museum, located at the site of her arrest in downtown Montgomery, Alabama.