Thirteen years ago, the “mother of the civil rights movement” Rosa Parks passed away from natural causes at the age of 92 in Detroit.
Born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, Parks was the granddaughter of two former slaves and was taught early on about the fight for racial equality.
When she was 19, she met and married Raymond Parks. The couple had no children together.
Parks, who was also named the “first lady of civil rights” by Congress, played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. On Dec. 1, 1955, the 42-year-old boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama after a long day working as a seamstress, and refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a White passenger.
Segregation laws were all over southern states in the 1950s and in her refusal to relinquish her seat, she violated Alabama law and was promptly arrested for civil disobedience.
Parks was not the first Black woman to push back against segregation on public transportation (Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith, Susie McDonald and 15-year-old Claudette Colvin were arrested) but The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) felt that she was the best person to be the face to end these suppressive tactics that targeted African-Americans because she was an adult, well respected and had a “natural gravitas,” historian David Garrow told NPR in 2009.
Following her arrest, NAACP organizers began planning an immediate boycott of Montgomery city buses.
According to biography.com, “ads were placed in local papers, and handbills were printed and distributed in black neighborhoods. Members of the African-American community were asked to stay off city buses on Monday, December 5, 1955—the day of Rosa’s trial—in protest of her arrest.”
E.D. Nixon, head of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, knew that a boycott would be a successful way to challenge the city’s segregation laws. Organizers told people to stay home from work and school and find other modes of transportation.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which stemmed from not only Parks’ removal from the bus, but her guilty verdict for violating Alabama law, lasted 381 days and crippled the finances for the bus company.
Parks, who also worked as a secretary for the NAACP in Montgomery, said that her actions were not planned beforehand and that it wasn’t because she was tired.
“I was not tired physically…or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day,” she wrote in her autobiography Rosa Parks: My Story. “I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
She was arrested for a second time for her role in the boycott (she was one of the organizers, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), she left Montgomery for Detroit after she lost her job as a seamstress and received death threats.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the country’s executive branch.
“Rosa Parks has demonstrated, in the words of Robert Kennedy, that each time a person strikes out against injustice, she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, which crossing millions of others can sweep down the walls of oppression.”
In 2004, Parks was diagnosed with dementia and died in her Detroit apartment a year later. She was the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol and more than 30,000 people paid their respects to the civil right icon.