|February 4, 1913—October 24, 2005 (aged 92)
|Civil rights activist
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an American civil rights activist who was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. Her act of defiance and the resulting Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and helped launch nationwide efforts to end segregation of public facilities.
Parks was born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. She married in 1932, and with her husband's encouragement, finished high school in 1933 at a time when less than 7 percent of African Americans had a high school diploma. In 1943, she became active in the Civil Rights Movement and joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey a bus driver's order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger after the white section was filled, and she was arrested. Although Parks had recently attended training for activists in workers' rights and racial equality, she acted as a private citizen.
On Sunday, December 4, plans for a bus boycott were announced at Black churches in Montgomery and on Monday, December 5—the day that Parks was tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance—some 40,000 African American commuters in Montgomery boycotted the buses. Some boycott participants carpooled and some rode in Black-operated cabs that charged the same fare as the bus, but most walked. That evening, it was decided to continue the boycott, and NAACP organizers determined that Parks would be a good plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws. She was not the first person to resist bus segregation, but they believed that she was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge because she was seen as a responsible, mature woman with a good reputation. The boycott lasted until December 20, 1956, when a federal ruling took effect that led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring the Alabama and Montgomery bus segregation laws unconstitutional.
Widely honored in later years, Parks was fired from her job as a seamstress during the boycott and received death threats for many years. After the boycott, she and her husband moved to Detroit, where she briefly worked as a seamstress. From 1965 to 1988, she served as secretary and receptionist to U.S. Representative John Conyers. She received national recognition, including the NAACP's 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. Upon her death on October 24, 2005, she was the first woman and third non-U.S. government official to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.