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Rosa Parks (1913–2005) Biography

(Rosa Louise Lee Parks)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for SATA sketch: Born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, AL; died October 24, 2005, in Detroit, MI. Activist and author. Widely hailed as the mother of the African-American anti-segregation movement, Parks became famous in 1955 when her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, sparked the bus strike and the civil rights movement led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama, she developed a finely honed sense of right and wrong even as a little girl. In 1990's The Autobiography of Rosa Parks, which was released two years later as Rosa Parks: My Story, she recalled an early incident when a white boy threatened her with racial slurs. The young Parks picked up a brick and dared him to come after her, but he retreated. Alabama in the 1920s was a dangerous place for many blacks, and Parks also recalled how her father kept a gun in the house in case the Ku Klux Klan threatened them. Educated at hoe by her mother until she was eleven, Parks later attended the Montgomery Industrial School, an institution for the education of blacks where the white staff was also subjected to attacks by racists. When she was of college age, she attended what is now Alabama State University, but she had to leave school before graduating in order to take care of her ailing grandmother and, later, her mother. Parks took on a number of jobs, including domestic servant and aide in a hospital; she also married Raymond Parks, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Living in Montgomery, Parks endured the entrenched racism and segregationist policies of the area for many years. One of the laws there restricted black people to sitting in the back rows of a bus; the front rows were reserved for white people, and even if those seats were empty black people were not allowed to use them. Finally, on December 1, 1955, Parks had had enough. Boarding a bus driven by James Blake, a man with whom he had had an unpleasant en-counter years before, she sat in one of the middle rows. When the front rows filled up with white passengers, a white man demanded that she move so he could sit down. When Blake gave her an ultimatum to either move or be arrested, she told him to go ahead and call the police. He did so, and what followed would go down in history. Parks, actually, had not been the first black woman in Montgomery to refuse to such demands; two other women had acted similarly. However, because of her exemplary personal history as a working, married woman who regularly attended church, Parks was chosen by the local NAACP as a rallying point; at the time, she was secretary of the Montgomery NAACP branch. When Parks's case went to the courts, the city's black population organized a bus strike. Since two-thirds of the bus passengers in Montgomery were black, the city's public transportation system was soon in a financial crisis. Parks helped work on the strike by serving as a dispatcher, organizing ways for blacks with cars to carpool with others, while the Reverend King was selected to lead the strike. By the end of 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled Alabama's bus law unconstitutional. The bus strike in Montgomery ended, but it soon spread through other cities in the South. White reaction to the protests was violent and often bloody, and Parks and her husband faced repeated threats against their lives. Afraid for the worst, they decided to leave Alabama in 1957 and move to Detroit, Michigan, where some of Parks's relatives lived. In Detroit, Parks continued to work for the movement, and, among other activities, was present at the 1963 march led by King in Washington, DC. In 1975, she was hired by U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr. to work on his staff, which she did until retiring in 1988. By this time, she had long been recognized as an icon in the civil rights movement. Many honors were bestowed upon her, including a Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award in 1987, the Medal of Freedom in 1996, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. In 2000, a museum and library were dedicated in her name in Montgomery, and the bus where she made her famous stand is now housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. Parks continued to work on worthy causes until her health began to fail. During the 1990s, she also coauthored several books, including Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation (1994), Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth (1996), and I Am Rosa Parks (1997). Among her important causes later in life was the founding of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, which helped young blacks in the areas of education and improving self-esteem. At her death Parks became the first black woman to lie in state at the rotunda of the Lincoln Memorial.



Parks, Rosa, and Jim Haskins, Rosa Parks: My Story, Dial Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Parks, Rosa, and Gregory J. Reed, Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1994.

Parks, Rosa, and Jim Haskins, I Am Rosa Parks, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1997.


Chicago Tribune, October 25, 2005, section 1, pp. 1, 16.

Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2005, pp. A1, A12-13.

New York Times, October 26, 2005, p. C24.

Times (London, England), October 26, 2005, p. 70.

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