Rosa Parks

gigatos | May 24, 2023


Rosa “Lee” Louise McCauley Parks (Tuskegee, Alabama, February 4, 1913 – Detroit, Michigan, October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist and a leader of the Black civil rights movement in the United States.

Parks became famous in 1955 for refusing to give up his seat on the bus to a white passenger against the orders of the bus driver. His arrest sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, one of the most successful anti-racism demonstrations in history, which elevated Martin Luther King to the leadership of the civil rights movement. Parks became one of the most important figures in American culture and the civil rights struggle.

She was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskagee, Alabama, the daughter of James McCauley, a carpenter, and Leona McCauley, a schoolteacher. As a young child, she was often ill with chronic tonsillitis. When her parents divorced, Rosa moved with her mother to Pine Level, near the town of Montgomery, where she lived on a farm with her mother, maternal grandparents and brother Sylvester, and became a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which she remained for the rest of her life. He was home-schooled by his mother Leona until the age of eleven, when he was enrolled in the industrial girls’ school in Montgomery, where his aunt lived. There she studied both science and vocational subjects. She was then enrolled in an experimental high school run by the Alabama Negro Teachers College (now Alabama State University), but had to drop out to care for her ailing grandmother and then mother.

Under Jim Crow laws, blacks and whites in the South were segregated from each other in all areas of life, including public transportation. Bus and train companies did not provide separate vehicles for people of other races, but they did reserve separate seats on each vehicle for whites and blacks. School buses for black children were not provided at all. Parks later wrote of his childhood memories of walking to Pine Level Elementary School: “Every day I saw the bus go by… But for me it was natural; we had no choice but to accept the customs. The bus was the first thing that made me realise that there was a black world and a white world.”

Although Parks’ memoirs reveal that one of his earliest memories was of being treated kindly by unknown white people, he could not ignore racism. He recalled that when the Ku Klux Klan marched down the street where their house stood, his grandfather stood in the doorway with a gun. The Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, founded and maintained by whites from the northern states, was twice burned down and the faculty ostracized by local whites.

Rosa married Raymond Parks, a Montgomery barber, in 1932 in her mother’s house. Raymond was a member of the NAACP black civil rights organization and at the time was raising money to support the “Scottsboro Boys” (black men falsely accused of raping white women). After her marriage, Rosa worked in a variety of jobs, including housekeeper and hospital nurse. At her husband’s urging, she completed her high school education in 1933 (less than 7% of African-Americans graduated from high school at the time). Despite Jim Crow laws making it difficult for blacks to participate in politics, Parks managed to get on the voter rolls on her third attempt.

In December 1943, Parks became active in the civil rights movement, joining the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and becoming secretary to Edgar Nixon, the organization’s president. He later said, “I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too shy to say no.” She worked as a secretary until 1957. In the 1940s, she was also a member of the League of Women Voters with her husband. Shortly after 1944, she worked briefly at the federally owned Maxwell Air Force Base, where racial discrimination was banned and she was allowed to ride the trolley bus with white men. He later told his biographer, “You might say Maxwell opened my eyes.” Parks also worked as a housekeeper and seamstress for a white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The liberal politically inclined Durr couple, with whom she became friends, encouraged and supported her to become involved with the Highlander Folk School for workers’ rights and racial equality in Monteagle, Tennessee, in the summer of 1955.

Background to the boycott

In 1944, Jackie Robinson had a similar confrontation with an army officer at Fort Hood, Texas, and refused to sit at the back of the bus. He was court-martialed and acquitted.

The NAACP has taken on similar cases before, such as the Irene Morgan case ten years earlier. Morgan’s case ended in a victory before the US Supreme Court, but racial segregation laws were only struck down on interstate vehicles. Black civil rights activists tried to use the case of fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin for their own ends. Colvin, a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man on March 2, 1955. Colvin was arrested, handcuffed and forcibly removed from the bus while shouting that his constitutional rights had been violated. Colvin was an active member of the NAACP Youth Council at the time; Parks worked as a consultant for the group.

“Mrs Parks said we should always do what’s right,” recalled Colvin. Parks had raised money for Colvin’s legal defense, but when E.D. Nixon learned that Colvin had been impregnated by a man much older than he was shortly after his arrest (a scandal in the religious black community), he decided Colvin was not a suitable symbol for their cause. They believed that the pro-segregationist press would use Colvin’s pregnancy to undermine the boycott. Some historians believe that civil rights activists, who were mostly middle class, were uncomfortable with Colvin’s poor background. The NAACP has previously found other protesters unfit to withstand the scrutiny they would face in a court case to overturn racially discriminatory laws. Colvin was also known for his frequent emotional outbursts and foul language. Most of the charges against him were dropped, and civil rights activists were looking for a new reason to start the fight.

Montgomery, Alabama, had a whites-only section under the law, which was usually the front four rows of buses (10 seats). The back 26 seats were reserved for blacks (72%), who made up more than 75% of the bus passengers. However, the size of the segregated sections varied according to how many whites preferred to ride the bus. A movable sign marked the boundary between the rows, and it was customary for the bus driver to move the sign indicating “colored” seating anywhere at the expense of black seats, so that blacks had to stand up, sit back, stand, or if there were no more seats, get off the bus. Blacks were not allowed to sit next to whites, only in another row on the other side of the sign, so even one new white passenger would reduce the black section by four seats (9%). If there were whites on the bus, blacks could board at the front door to pay for their ticket, but they could not sit in the back among the whites, but had to get off and board at the back door. Sometimes the bus left before they could get back on at the back door after buying their ticket.

The black community has complained about injustice for years, and Parks was no exception. “It didn’t start with my arrest that I didn’t like the way I was treated on the bus… I walked a lot in Montgomery.” Parks first got into a confrontation with a bus driver, James Blake, on a rainy day in 1943, who insisted he get off and get on at the back door. He hurried Parks, who deliberately dropped his bag and sat down briefly in a seat reserved for white people to gather his belongings. This angered the driver, who refused to let him get on again: as soon as he got off, he drove off. Instead, Parks walked more than five miles home in the rain, not wanting to get back on the bus.

The arrest of Rosa Parks

On Thursday, December 1, 1955, at 6 p.m., after working all day at the Montgomery Fair store, Parks boarded a bus on Cleveland Avenue in downtown Montgomery. He paid, then sat down in an empty seat in the front row of the black section, in the middle of the bus, directly behind the ten seats reserved for whites. He didn’t realize at first that the bus driver was the same James Blake who left him in the rain in 1943. As the bus moved on, the white seats slowly filled up. At the third stop, in front of the Empire Theater, more whites boarded. As usual, Blake looked around, saw that the white seats were full and two or three people were still standing, so he put the partition behind Parks and motioned to the four black people sitting there to get up and give up their seats. Years later, looking back on that day, Parks said, “When the white driver walked up to us, waved and ordered us out of our seats, I felt the desperation cover me like a blanket on a winter night.”

Parks recalls that Blake said, “They’d better stop fussing and hand those places over.” The three obeyed. Parks recalls, “The driver wanted all four of us to stand up. We didn’t move at first, but he said, ‘Give up those seats.’ The other three people got up, but I didn’t.”

The black man sitting next to him stood up. Parks sat inside, next to the window; he did not get up to sit behind the moved partition. Blake then addressed him. “Why don’t you get up?” “I said I didn’t think I should get up,” Parks replied. Blake then called the police. Parks recounted the incident in the 1987 television series Eyes on the Prize, about the civil rights movement: “When he saw I was still sitting down, he asked me if I would get up and I said no. He said, ‘I don’t want to get up. Then he said, ‘If you don’t stand up, I’m going to call the police and have you arrested,’ and I said, ‘All right, do it.'”

In 1956, in a radio interview with Sydney Rogers in West Oakland, months after his arrest, Parks, when asked why he decided not to give up his seat, said, “I wanted to know once and for all what my rights were as a human being and as a citizen of Montgomery, Alabama.”

In her autobiography Rosa Parks: My Story (published in English as I, Rosa Parks), she also detailed her motivation (p. 116):

When Parks refused to give up his seat, a police officer arrested him. When he was led away, he asked the officer, “Why are you treating us like this?” The officer’s response, Parks recalls, was, “I don’t know, but the law is the law, and you’re under arrest.” Parks later said, “All I knew while I was being arrested was that this was the last time I would be subjected to such humiliation.”

Parks was charged with violating Section 11 of Chapter 6 of the City of Montgomery’s racial segregation law, although he was not actually occupying the white seat, but was sitting in the colored section. E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr were released from jail on the evening of December 1, and Nixon convinced him to allow his case to be used to challenge the legality of the city’s rules on racial segregation on buses. That evening, Nixon discussed Parks’ case with Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson; and also spoke with African-American attorney Fred Gray. It was decided that the best way to achieve desegregation on the buses would be a one-day boycott. Nixon and Robinson organized the boycott that evening. Nixon spent late into the evening talking to important black civil rights leaders in Montgomery, asking for their support.

Four days later, Parks was brought to court on charges of disorderly conduct and disorderly conduct. The trial lasted thirty minutes. He was found guilty and fined $10 and ordered to pay a $4 court administration fee. Parks appealed and formally challenged the validity of the racial segregation. In a 1962 radio interview with National Public Radio’s Lynn Neary, Parks said:

I didn’t want to be treated unfairly, to be deprived of a seat I paid for. This was the time… this was my chance to stand up for what I believe in, to express how I felt when I was treated this way. I didn’t want to be arrested, I had enough to do without going to jail, but when I had to make a decision, I didn’t hesitate because I felt I had endured too much. The more we gave in, the more we cooperated with this treatment, the more we were oppressed.

On Monday, 5 December 1955, a group of 16-18 people gathered at the Mt. Zion Church to discuss the boycott. It was decided that a new organization would be needed to manage the boycott in case it continued. Reverend Ralph David Abernathy suggested the name “Montgomery Improvement Association” (MIA). It was led by a newcomer to Montgomery, the young and little known pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday night, 50 members of the African American community gathered to discuss their response to Parks’ arrest. “My God, look what racial segregation has given me!” said E.D. Nixon. Parks proved to be an ideal subject to challenge the city and state’s segregation laws. While the fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin, pregnant out of wedlock, seemed unfit to become the central figure in a civil rights movement, King said, “Mrs. Parks was one of Montgomery’s most respectable citizens – not its most respectable Negro citizen, but one of Montgomery’s most respectable citizens.” Parks was a respectably married woman, a working woman, quiet, elegant in appearance, and well-versed in politics.

The Montgomery bus boycott

On December 4, 1955, plans for a Montgomery bus boycott were announced in the area’s black-attended churches and on the front page of The Montgomery Advertiser. At a large church meeting that night, participants agreed by an anonymous vote to continue the boycott until they got what they wanted: polite treatment on the buses, hiring black drivers, and first-come, first-served seats in the middle of the buses.

On the day of Parks’s trial, December 5, 1955, the Women’s Political Council distributed 35,000 leaflets asking blacks to boycott Montgomery’s public transportation buses. The caption read: “We ask (…) all blacks to (…) not use the buses in protest against arrest and trial. They can afford to miss school for a day and can go to work by taxi or on foot. Children and adults are asked not to take the bus on Monday. Please stay off the buses on Monday.”

It was raining that day, but the black community held the boycott. Some people used cars to transport each other, others used taxis run by blacks, which cost the same as the buses, 10 cents. Most of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles. The boycott eventually lasted 381 days. Dozens of buses sat idle for months, the bus company suffered a huge financial loss, until the racial segregation law was finally repealed.

The proponents of segregation responded with terror. In the early hours of 30 January 1956, Martin Luther King’s home was bombed and E.D. Nixon’s home was attacked. However, the black bus boycott still became one of the most successful anti-racism movements, sparking several other protests and putting King at the forefront of the civil rights struggle.

Rosa Parks not only played an important role in triggering the boycott, but also brought attention to the struggle for equality and civil rights of African Americans. In his 1958 book, Steps to Freedom, King wrote that Parks’ arrest did not trigger the protest, but only accelerated it. “The cause lay deep in a series of similar injustices. (…) No one can understand Mrs. Parks’ action without understanding that the cup of patience is finally full and the human soul cries out, ‘I can take no more!'”

The Montgomery bus boycott also inspired a bus boycott in the city of Alexandria, South Africa, which was one of the reasons for the radicalisation of the black majority in the country under the control of the African National Congress.

Browder v Gayle

After the bus boycott began, black leaders began discussing the need to challenge city and state laws requiring racial segregation on buses. Two months after the boycott began, black lawyers again considered Claudette Colvin’s case. Fred Gray, E. D. Nixon, and attorneys Clifford Durr tried to find a case to center on that could challenge the racial segregation laws that applied to buses. Parks’s case could not be used because as a criminal case it would have had to be tried first in state court before it could be appealed to federal court; city and state officials would have delayed a final decision for years. In addition, Durr said, the case could have ended up merely invalidating Parks’ conviction, not changing the segregation laws.

Gray tried to find a more suitable subject with the help of NAACP legal advisers Robert Carter and later Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He sought out Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, who had been wronged the previous year by the Montgomery Bus Republic. They all agreed to participate as defendants in a lawsuit. On February 1, 1956, Fred Gray filed the lawsuit in Browder v. Gayle (Browder was a Montgomery housewife and Gayle was the mayor of the city). This case finally ended racial segregation on the buses.

On June 19, 1956, the court ruled that Section 301 (31a, 31b and 31c) of Title 48 of the Alabama Code of 1940 and Sections 10 and 11 of Chapter 6 of the Montgomery City Code of 1952 “deprive the plaintiffs and other similarly situated Negro citizens of the right of equal protection before the law afforded them by the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Browder v. Gayle, 1956). The court ruled that the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision could be applied to Browder and Gayle. On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial segregation on buses unconstitutional and outlawed it. News of the court’s decision reached Montgomery, Alabama, on 20 December 1956, and the bus boycott ended the next day. However, the court decision was followed by a new wave of violence, with repeated shootings at buses and King’s home, and bomb attacks on churches and pastor’s homes.

After her arrest, Rosa Parks became a symbol of the American civil rights movement, but faced difficulties. She lost her job at the department store and her husband quit after his boss forbade her to talk about his wife or the lawsuit. Parks went around the country giving speeches. In 1957, the Parks couple left Montgomery and moved to Hampton, Virginia, partly because Parks couldn’t find a job and partly because they disagreed with King and other leaders of the civil rights movement in Montgomery. In Hampton, he found a job in a saloon. Later, at the request of her brother Sylvester, Rosa, her husband Raymond and her mother Leona moved to Detroit, Michigan.

Parks worked as a seamstress until 1965, when she was hired as a secretary and receptionist by Michigan Democratic State Representative John Conyers. She worked there until her retirement in 1988. In a telephone interview with CNN on October 24, 2005, Conyers recalled, “We treated her with respect because she was so quiet, so calm – a very special person. There is only one Rosa Parks.”

Parks was later a spokesperson for the American Family Planning Service.

In honour of her husband, Rosa Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development with Elaine Eason Steele in February 1987 (Raymond died of cancer in 1977). The institute organizes the “Freedom Trail” bus tours to educate young people about important human rights and the stations of the Underground Railroad. (During a 1997 trip, the bus crashed into a river, killing one of the passengers, Parks’ adopted granddaughter Adisa Foluke, and injuring several others.)

Parks published her autobiography Rosa Parks: My Story in 1992. Intended for a young readership, it details her life and what led to her decision not to give up her seat. In 1995, she published her memoir Quiet Strength. Its main theme is the role his religious faith played in his life.

On 30 August 1994, 81-year-old Rosa Parks was attacked in her Detroit home by an African-American drug addict, Joseph Skipper. The incident sparked outrage across America. After his arrest, Skipper said he didn’t know he was breaking into Parks’ house, but when he saw him, he recognised him. He asked her, “Hey, aren’t you Rosa Parks?” to which she replied yes, and when Skipper demanded money, she gave him three dollars, and when he demanded more, another 50. Skipper then hit Rosa and fled. He was arrested and sentenced on August 8, 1995, to between 8 and 15 years in prison for several counts of burglary and private theft against Parks and other residents of the area.

A scene from the 2002 film Barbershop prompted civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to launch a boycott of the film. The Barbershop characters talk about previous incidents where African-Americans refused to give up their seats, and in one scene a barber claimed that Rosa Parks only became famous because she worked as a secretary for the NAACP.


  1. Rosa Parks
  2. Rosa Parks
  3. a b Integrált katalógustár (német és angol nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2014. április 9.)
  4. a b Encyclopædia Britannica (angol nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2017. október 9.)
  5. a b SNAC (angol nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2017. október 9.)
  6. ^ (EN) Taylor-Dior Rumble, Claudette Colvin: The 15-year-old who came before Rosa Parks, su, BBC World Service, 10 marzo 2018. URL consultato il 27 agosto 2019.«In March 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks defied segregation laws by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin did exactly the same thing»
  7. ^ redazione, Rosa Parks, la donna che cambiò la storia con un “no” sul bus, in La scuola fa notizia, 5 MAGGIO 2021. URL consultato il 15 gennaio 2022.
  8. ^ a b redazione, MONDO 1 dicembre 1955, il “no” di Rosa Parks che cambiò la storia dei diritti civili, in RAI News, 1º DICEMBRE 2021. URL consultato il 15 gennaio 2022.
  9. ^ Redazione, La storia di Rosa Parks e la ribellione alla segregazione razziale, in Sky TG24, 1º dicembre 2020. URL consultato il 15 gennaio 2022.
  10. a b Rosa Parks, [w:] Encyclopædia Britannica [online] [dostęp 2016-05-20]  (ang.).
  11. A. Ramirez: New Yorkers Take a Stand Standing Up. In: The New York Times vom 2. Dezember 2005, S. B1.
  12. What If I Don’t Move to the Back of the Bus? – Rosa Parks. Infos zum Rosa Parks Bus beim Henry-Ford-Museum (englisch).
  13. ‘Asteroid hunters’ search for space rocks that could collide with Earth aus einer Radiosendung des Programms The Takeaway vom 15. März 2017 (englisch)
  14. Assailant Recognized Rosa Parks in reading eagle, abgerufen am 21. November 2018
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