Actively peered by the most influential leaders in black American history and named "The Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement", Rosa Parks had a knack for effectively voicing her thoughts and feelings about inequalities in society.
At a time when social inequality was commonplace, her courage and conviction to stand up against wrong acts as a beacon of strength and inspiration to all.
Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, as Rosa Louise McCauley. She was born and brought up in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her father James McCauley was a carpenter, and her mother Leona Edwards was a teacher. Her ancestry comprised African-American, Scots-Irish and Cherokee-Creek lineage. As a child, she suffered poor health.
When her parents separated, she moved with her mother to Pine Level, Montgomery, Alabama. She grew up to establish a lifelong membership with the African Methodist Episcopal Church commune. Rosa took vocational and academic courses at the Industrial School for Girls, Montgomery.
Rosa Parks grew up at a time when black and white people in America were segregated in every aspect of daily life. Transportation seating policies were demeaning and insulting. School bus transportation was only made available to the 'white' students, forcing their 'black' contemporaries to walk for miles.
"I realized there was a black world and a white world", was young Rosa's observation of life in Montgomery. Her life was not devoid of pleasant 'white' memories. But, her situation as a young black woman made it impossible for her to ignore the dictates of racism.
Rosa married Raymond Parks in 1932. Her husband encouraged her to complete her high school education in 1933. In 1943, Rosa Parks joined her husband as a Civil Rights Movement activist, in the capacity of NAACP secretary. She enjoyed a short tenure at the Maxwell Air Force Base in 1944, an area where racial segregation was banned.
A white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr, encouraged Rosa to attend Highlander Folk School, a center that trained workers' rights and racial equality protagonists.
The Bus Ride
Rosa was deeply stirred by the brutal 'black' murders of Emmett Till, George W. Lee and Lamar Smith. The tide of events that gave racist-America its first taste of 'black' power raged in 1955. Aged 42, Rosa refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her action sparked arrest and other individual civil disobedience movements.
Parks was wrongly charged with 'violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Montgomery City code'. After the plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott were announced, Parks was tried for 'disorderly conduct' and 'violation of local ordinance'.
The 30-minute trial declared Parks guilty and imposed a fine of $14. The resultant Montgomery Bus Boycott made Parks a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn't before long Parks was honored as an international icon of the cause.
Thereafter, she collaborated with civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. to take the Civil Rights Movement to another level. Parks was awarded the 1979 Spingarn Medal, Congressional Gold Medal, and posthumous honors at the Capitol's National Statuary Hall and Capitol Rotunda.
Later Life and Death
Rosa Parks suffered a number of hardships as a result of her defiance. Nevertheless, she lived on the wages of a seamstress till 1965, after which John Conyers, the African-American US Representative, hired her as a secretary. She retired from the Detroit Congressional office in 1988.
She founded the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation in 1980, a program designed for high school seniors. Parks co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development Center, with Elaine Eason Steele, in honor of her husband, who succumbed to cancer in 1977. She published her biography 'Rosa Parks: My Story', in 1992.
In 2004, Rosa was diagnosed with progressive dementia. The following year on October 24, 2005, Rosa Parks passed away at the ripe age of 92. As a mark of respect and homage, all the city buses in Detroit and Montgomery reserved their front seats with black ribbons.
On the day of Rosa's funeral procession, all flags in the United States public areas, both continental and abroad, and the Nation's Capitol were flown at half mast.
Rosa never lost her desire to see equality for all men and women, she inspired many to stand up for their beliefs, and understand the difference one person can make.
Nothing can sum up her lasting legacy better than one of her own quotes, I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people, that is precisely what she will be best remembered for.