(February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005)
Rosa Parks was born on this day back in 1913 and became known as the “mother of the freedom movement.” She was born in Tuskegee, Alabama and worked in a shirt factory as a seamstress. In 1932 at the age of 19, she married Raymond Parks, a barber and active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She later earned her college degree in 1933 and joined a Montgomery chapter of the NAACP where she served as the chapter’s youth leader and secretary to NAACP President E.D. Dixon.
On December 1, 1955, 42-year-old Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Ala. city bus to go home from work. She sat near the middle of the bus behind the 10 seats that were reserved for whites and shortly after all the seats on the bus were filled. When a white man boarded the bus, the bus driver told the four blacks (including Parks) sitting behind the white section give up their seats so the man could sit there. Parks refused to give up her seat, spurring a city-wide boycott and the rest is truly history.
The Montgomery City Code required that all public transportation be segregated and that the bus driver had the same powers as a police officer while operating the bus and carrying out the requirements of the code. When blacks boarded the bus, they had to get on at the front, pay their fare and then get off and re-board the bus at the back door. As the bus filled up and more white passengers got on, the bus driver would move the sign separating the two races and if necessary, ask the black passengers to give up their seats.
When Parks refused to give up her seat, the bus driver called the police and had her arrested. She was taken to police headquarters and charged with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Montgomery City Code. She was released on bail later that night. There have been many stories that Rosa’s refusal to give up her seat was because she was physically tired from work but as she recalls the incident, she says that she was “tired of giving in.”
On the evening of her arrest, E.D. Nixon organized a boycott of the Montgomery city bus by placing ads in local papers and distributing fliers in black neighborhoods. Blacks were asked to not use buses on the day of Rosa’s trial (Dec. 6, 1955) in protest of her arrest. At her hearing, Parks was fined $10 plus a $4 court fee. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was very successful with an estimated 40,000 blacks walking to and from their different destinations that day.
The boycott efforts lasted for several months and eventually caused the City of Montgomery to lift its enforcement of segregation on public buses. The boycott officially ended on December 20, 1956, making it one of the largest and most successful movements against racial segregation in history.
Today, President Barack Obama commemorated Rosa Parks’ birthday by taking her seat on the bus.