Hero: Rosa Parks
What is a hero? According http://www.dictionary.com, the definition of hero is, “A man of distinguished courage of ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” Also defined as, “A person, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or idea.” Heroes are important because the serve to keep people safe. For example, “He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child, and a fireman rescued a baby from a burning building.” Famed civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a public bus Montgomery, Alabama, spurred on a citywide boycott and helped launch nationwide efforts to end segregation of public facilities.
In 1932, at age 19, Rosa met and married Raymond Parks, a barber and an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. With Raymond’s support, Rosa earned her high school degree in 1933. She soon became actively involved in civil rights issues by joining the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, serving as the chapter’s youth leader as well as secretary to NAACP President E.D. Nixon—a post she held until 1957.
On December 1, 1955, after a long day’s work at a Montgomery department store, where she worked as a seamstress, Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus for home. As the bus Rosa was riding continued on its route, it began to fill with white passengers. Eventually, the bus was full and the driver noticed that several white passengers were standing in the aisle. He stopped the bus and moved the sign separating the two sections back one row and asked four black passengers to give up their seats. Three complied, but Rosa refused and remained seated. The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?” to which Rosa replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” The driver called the police and had her arrested. Later, Rosa recalled that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in.
The police arrested Rosa at the scene and charged her with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code. She was taken to police headquarters, where, later that night, she was released on bail.
On the evening that Rosa Parks was arrested, E.D. Nixon, head of the local chapter of the NAACP, began forming plans to organize a boycott of Montgomery’s city buses. 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. People were encouraged to stay home from work or school, take a cab or walk to work. With most of the African-American community not riding the bus, organizers believed a longer boycott might be successful.
With the Transit Company and downtown businesses suffering financial loss and the legal system ruling against them, the city of Montgomery had no choice but to lift its enforcement of segregation on public buses, and the boycott officially ended on December 20, 1956. The combination of legal action, backed by the unrelenting determination of the African-American community, made the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history.
Although she had become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks suffered hardship in the months following her arrest in Montgomery and the subsequent boycott. She lost her department store job and her husband was fired after his boss forbade him to talk about his wife or their legal case. Unable to find work, they eventually left Montgomery; the couple, along with Rosa’s mother, moved to Detroit, Michigan. There, Rosa made a new life for herself, working as a secretary and receptionist in U.S. Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Rosa Parks received many accolades during her lifetime, including the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest award, and the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Award. On September 9, 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the United States’ executive branch. The following year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch. In 1999, TIME magazine named Rosa Parks on its list of “The 20 most influential People of the 20th Century.”
On October 24, 2005, at the age of 92, Rosa Parks quietly died in her apartment in Detroit, Michigan. She had been diagnosed the previous year with progressive dementia. Her death was marked by several memorial services, among them lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., where an estimated 50,000 people viewed her casket. Rosa was interred between her husband and mother at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery, in the chapel’s mausoleum. Shortly after her death, the chapel was renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel.
“Each person must live their life as a model.” Rosa Parks is a true American hero.
Parks Rosa. (2014). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved 10:51, Jan 22, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/rosa-parks-9433715.