"Two policemen came on the bus, and one asked me if the driver had told me to stand…He wanted to know why I didn't stand, and I told him I didn't think I should have to stand up. I asked him, why did they push us around? He said, 'I don't know, but the law is the law and you are under arrest.'"
On December 1, 1955, an unassuming seamstress named Rosa Parks sparked a movement to end segregation in America. On that day, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in the colored section to a white passenger. This act of civil disobedience resulted in arrest and a fine for violating a city ordinance.
Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama. She eventually moved to Montgomery when she married her husband, Raymond Parks. There they joined the NAACP and were devoted to improve the lives of African Americans living in the south.
“I worked on numerous cases with the NAACP,” Mrs. Parks recalled, “but we did not get the publicity. There were cases of flogging, peonage, murder, and rape. We didn’t seem to have too many successes. It was more a matter of trying to challenge the powers that be, and to let it be known that we did not wish to continue being second-class citizens.”
Her quiet act of defiance on the bus triggered a boycott of the city-owned bus company led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The boycott, which lasted 381 days, brought the attention of Rosa Parks and Dr. King to the world. It also resulted in a Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on public transportation and the ordinance in which Rosa Parks was fined.
Afterwards, Rosa Parks continued her life of civil service dedicated to improve the lives of black Americans. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.
When asked if she was happy living in retirement, Rosa Parks replied, “I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day, but I don’t think there is any such thing as complete happiness. It pains me that there is still a lot of Klan activity and racism. I think when you say you’re happy, you have everything that you need and everything that you want, and nothing more to wish for. I haven’t reached that stage yet.”
Mrs. Parks spent her last years in Detroit where she died in 2005 at the age of 92. Today her legacy as the mother of the civil rights movement lives on as an inspiration of what can be accomplished through peaceful protest.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America's premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF works both through the courts and through advocacy to the executive and legislative branches, educational outreach, monitoring of federal and state government activity, coalition building and policy research. Additionally, through its scholarship, fellowship, and internship programs, LDF helps students to attend and graduate from many of the nation’s best colleges, universities, and law schools and to develop a lasting commitment to racial justice and public service.