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Rosa Parks

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This historical profile presents accurate information about a famous person and is written in an active, lively manner. Alita, the writer, immersed herself in the life of Rosa Parks until she could “feel” the person and events. She found ways to communicate these feelings to readers.

Rosa Parks

At their Web site, students from Lincoln Bassett Community School answer the question “Who is Rosa Parks?”

  • I think Rosa Parks was a woman who stood up for what she believed in. —Brittney Hammett
  • She was a woman who had the guts to stand up for what she believed. —Jessie Alexander

Several other students also answered the question, responding with phrases like “my hero” and “queen mother of the revolution.”

Rosa Parks is often considered as just these things, remembered as the tired seamstress who refused to give up a bus seat to a white man in 1955. Parks, however, was—and still is—much more than that.

Rosa Louise McCauley was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskeegee, Alabama, to her parents, Leona, a teacher, and James, a carpenter. At the age of 2, she moved to Pine Level, Alabama, with her mother and younger brother, Sylvester, to live on her grandparents’ farm. At age 11, she began education at the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private school founded by women from the northern United States, and then went on to the Alabama State Teachers College.

With her husband, Raymond Parks, she settled in Montgomery and joined the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She served as secretary of the NAACP and later as advisor to the NAACP Youth Council. Several times Parks tried to register to vote. These activities made the “bus incident” seem more than just a local ordinance violation.

On Thursday, December 1, 1955, 43-year-old Parks boarded a city bus for the ride home after work (she was a seamstress at the time). Following the local ordinance that segregated blacks and whites, she sat in the fifth row of the bus, the closest “colored” row to the front, along with three other black people. The first four rows of the bus filled after a few stops, and one white man was left standing. The bus driver, James F. Blake, told the four in the fifth row to move. Three did, but Parks refused. The ordinance forbade blacks and whites from sitting next to one another on buses, and the driver said that if she did not move, he would call the police to have her arrested. Parks may have been tired after a day at work, but she was exhausted by the way African Americans were being treated.

Parks was not the first person arrested for violating the ordinance, but she was the first well-known person in the Montgomery African American community to be arrested for it, setting off a chain of events that changed American history.

Leaders in the Montgomery area, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and Jo Ann Robinson (head of the Women’s Political Council), feeling that some sort of protest was needed, held a meeting that weekend to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. On Monday evening, another meeting was held, and everyone voted to continue the boycott. From December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956, 90 percent of the blacks who normally rode buses in Montgomery participated in the boycott.

Parks’ arrest led not only to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but also to headlines for the NAACP and the civil rights movement and national recognition of leaders such as King. Literally and, perhaps, ironically, Parks had refused to “stand up” for what she believed in; and by remaining seated, she went beyond taking a stand. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and on November 13, 1956, racial segregation on public transportation was declared unconstitutional.

In 1957, Parks and her husband moved to Detroit and founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, offering guidance to young African Americans in leadership and careers.

In 1994, Rosa Parks was attacked in her home by a man wanting money from her. Parks, with the quiet faith and determination she showed the world in 1955, says she prays for him. According to writer Kira Albin, “Parks’ belief in God and her religious convictions are at the core of everything she does.” Parks’ book, Quiet Strength, spreads this message. In an interview, she gave these recommendations: “The advice I would give to young people is, first of all, to rid themselves of prejudice against other people and to be concerned about what they can do to help others, and, of course, to get a good education and to take advantage of the opportunities they have.”

Rosa Parks said, “I think the American Dream should be to have a good life and to live well and to be a good citizen; I think that should apply to all of us.” She stands out in American history as a person who, in the course of a regular day, found the opportunity to stay seated for what she believed in and to educate and help others to understand this belief.

Sources

Albin, Kira. “Rosa Parks, the Woman Who Changed a Nation.” Grand Times. 21 May 2000. Web. 23 Feb. 2001.

Garrow, David J. “Rosa Lee Parks.” The World Book Encyclopedia. 1998 ed. Print.

Jennings, Peter, and Todd Brewster. The Century for Young People. New York: Random House, 1999. Print.

“The Montgomery Bus Boycott 1956.” North Park University. 4 Jan. 2001. Web. 23 Feb. 2001.

“NAACP.” Holidays on the Net. 12 Dec. 2000. Web. 23 Feb. 2001.

National Women’s Hall of Fame. 24 Nov. 2000. Web. 23 Feb. 2001.

“Rosa Parks.” American Academy of Achievement. 5 Feb. 2001. Web. 23 Feb. 2001.

“Who Is Rosa Parks?” Lincoln Bassett Community School. 13 Jan. 2000. Web. 23 Feb. 2001.

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