Remembering Rosa Parks
The nation honors the civil rights icon on her 100th birthday
The Rosa Parks Library at Troy University in Alabama honors Parks’s contributions to civil rights. (Rob Carr / AP Images)
America is celebrating the 100th birthday of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
Parks was born on February 4, 1913. For the first 42 years of her life, she was an ordinary citizen. But all that changed during a single bus ride.
Parks lived and worked in Montgomery, Alabama, during a time of intense racism. As a black person, she wasn’t allowed to sit in the same places as white people in restaurants, to use the same bathrooms or even doors as white people, or to attend the same schools. The practice of keeping people apart is called segregation.
On December 1, 1955, Parks boarded a bus after a long workday. She sat down in the first row of seats in the “colored” section. This section was behind the seats where white people were allowed to sit. But as the bus filled up and more white people got on, the bus driver demanded that Parks give up her seat. She refused.
The driver called the police and Parks was arrested.
Parks's act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a turning point in the Civil Rights movement. A boycott is a type of protest in which people refuse to use a service or buy a product.
Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, citizens were urged not to ride the bus until the unfair laws were changed. The Montgomery boycott lasted 381 days, until the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation on public buses.
AN EVERYDAY HERO
In an interview from 1956, Parks explained why she refused to give up her seat. “I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen,” Parks said.
Almost overnight, the arrest turned Parks into a hero. She inspired a new generation of civil rights advocates. She also became a leader in her own right in the fight for equality.
“She had a unique personality,” says Donna Braden, curator of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The museum houses the bus that Parks rode on that historic day. “She was also an ordinary person. When people heard about what she did, they thought, ‘I can do that too.’ ”
Parks continued to fight for equal rights until her death on October 24, 2005. When she died, her casket was placed in the rotunda of the United States Capitol for two days so people could honor her. This is usually reserved for U.S. Presidents. Parks was the first woman and the second African-American to receive this honor.
LEGACY OF A LEGEND
Although Rosa Parks was an ordinary person, she showed that anyone can make a difference if they stand up—or in this case, sit down—for what they think is right.
Decades after Parks’s refusal to give up her seat, she still influences and inspires people—including kids. Students today think that what Parks did nearly 60 years ago was special.
“Rosa Parks did a simple thing that began something big,” says Emily, a student at Emerson School, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
On Friday, President Barack Obama gave a special proclamation in honor of the hero’s 100th birthday.
“Just wanting to get home after a long day at work,” the President said, “Rosa Parks may not have been planning to make history, but her defiance spurred a movement that advanced our journey toward justice and equality for all.”
Molly Pribble is a member of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps.