1325 PeaceWomen
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“The only thing that bothered me was that we waited so long to make this protest”
United States, 1913 – 2005

She is considered the mother of modern civil rights. She was an active fighter against segregation and racism. Her gestures of disobedience on a bus changed the history of her country and the lives of African Americans. She published the book “Quiet Strength,” and later her autobiography, “My Life.”

Sometimes a single action can become the spark that changes the course of history. Rosa Parks, a seamstress and a militant in the Civil Rights Movement, made the gesture on the first of December, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, to refuse to give up her seat on the bus to a white person. Her disobedience of the laws of segregation cost her time in jail and a fine of fourteen dollars, and it provoked a 381 day boycott of public busses in Montgomery. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist pastor who was relatively unknown at the time, was at the forefront of the protests that brought about the historic decision of the United States Supreme Court Justice to abolish segregation on public transportation because it was considered to be unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement not only because of her extreme courage. The press depicted Rosa as a hardworking seamstress who one day became tired of riding in the back of the bus. There were very few people who knew more about Parks, who was a woman of political consciousness and who worked as the secretary of the local branch of the Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.) Nor was it widely known that Parks had attended the Highlander Folk School, a school that promoted workers’ rights and racial inequality. As Rosa pointed out about that day, “It wasn’t that I was tired after a long day of work. It’s that I was tired of giving in.”

Rosa Luise McCauley, (her maiden name), was the daughter of a carpenter and a teacher. Her mother’s name was Leona, and she had made it her life’s philosophy to take advantage of every opportunity, no matter how few there may be. Remembering her mother, Rosa once said in an interview, “In these times, opportunities were practically inexistent because we didn’t have civil rights. Everything was reduced to simply surviving, to maintaining day-to-day life. When I was a little girl, I remember falling asleep listening to the shouts of the Ku-Klux-Klan during one of their lynchings, and I was afraid they would set our house on fire.” Her fear turned into relief during the boycotts and protests movements that transcended the borders of the US and awakened support in the rest of the world. “The relief came in knowing that I wasn’t alone,” Rosa reflects.

Alongside her husband, Raymond Parks, Rosa worked with the NAACP on many cases of violent crimes against African Americans. It was what she defined as ‘quiet work’ because the press made no publication of these cases. Says Rosa, “Overall, my work was to defy the centers of power and make it known that we did not want to continue being second class citizens.”

In 1957, Rosa and her husband moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she formed part of a team of advisors to the democratic senator John Conyers. Among other recognitions of her perseverance in the fight against racism, the Southern Christian Leadership Council established in her honor the Rosa Parks Medal of Freedom. In 1977, after the death of her husband, Rosa founded the Institute for Self-Development that sported both of their names: “The Rose and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.” One of its principal activities was a summer program for adolescents called “Pathways to Freedom.” The summer program took the students on bus trips across the country to learn about the history of the United States and the Civil Rights Movement.

When a retired Rosa Parks was asked if she was happy in this stage of her life, she answered, “I did the best that I could to live with optimism and hope for better days for people of color. But I don’t think there exists anything that can completely define happiness. It still hurts me to know that racism still exists and that the Ku-Klux-Klan is still in action. I think that when someone says that they are happy, it’s because they feel that they have all that they need, all that they want, and they don’t desire anything more. I still haven’t arrived at that feeling.”

In recognition of a life dedicated to the fight against racism, in 1999 Rosa Parks received the Congressional Medal of Honor from president, Bill Clinton. In the medal was inscribed, “The Mother of the Movement for Modern Civil Rights.”

When Rosa Parks died on October 25, 2005 at the age of 92, her coffin was displayed for two days at the Capital House so that the North American people could pay their respects to the woman who changed the lives of so many people. She was the first woman in history to be presented at the Capital House, which is an honor usually reserved for deceased presidents.

In the case of Rosa Parks, a simple act of disobedience or “bad conduct” connected her to something much more transcendental: the fight for civil rights.