Rosa Louise Parks (born February 4, 1913 as Rosa Louise McCauley) is a retired
African-American seamstress and figure in the American Civil Rights Movement,
most famous for her refusal in 1955 to give up a bus seat to a white man
who was getting on the bus.
Civil rights and political activity.
Rosa Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, daughter of James and Loeona
McCauley. She grew up on a farm with her grandparents, mother, and
brother; for most of her adult life she worked as a seamstress.
In the early 1950s, Parks became active in the American Civil Rights
Movement and worked as a secretary for the Montgomery, Alabama branch
of the NAACP. Just six months before her arrest, she had attended the
Highlander Folk School, an education center for workers' rights and
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Parks refused to obey a public
bus driver's orders to move to the back of the bus to make extra seats
for whites. Rosa was tired of being treated as a second-class citizen
and stood firmly. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for disorderly
conduct and for violating a local ordinance.
The very next night, 50 leaders of the African-American community,
headed by a relatively unknown minister (Martin Luther King, Jr.) gathered
to discuss the proper actions to be taken after Mrs. Parks' arrest.
What ensued next was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The entire black community
boycotted public buses for 381 days. Dozens of public buses stood idle
for months until the law legalizing segregation in public buses was
lifted. This event helped spark many other protests against segregation.
In helping in this boycott, Rosa Parks helped make her fellow Americans
aware of the history of the civil rights struggle.
In 1956 Parks's case ultimately resulted in United States Supreme
Court's ruling that segregated bus service was unconstitutional.
Afterwards, Parks became an icon of the civil rights movement. She
moved to Detroit in the early 1960s and served on the staff of U. S.
Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) from 1965 until 1988. She
continues to reside in Detroit.
Debated aspects of Parks' story and its place in the civil rights movement.
While few historians doubt Parks' contribution to the civil rights
movement or the bravery of her refusal, some have questioned some of
the more mythic elements of her story.
Standard accounts of Parks' act of civil disobedience in 1955 refer
to her simply as a "tired seamstress". Parks stated in her
autobiography, My Story, that it was not true that she was physically
tired but was "tired of giving in".
Also, some accounts downplay her prior involvement with the NAACP
and the Highlander Folk School, portraying her as an individual with
no particular political background or training.
Many accounts fail to clarify: she was sitting in the "colored" section
of the bus. With the "white" section full, a white man wanted
her to give up her seat. That is, it was not a matter of protest on
any level when she sat down; the protest was in her refusal to give
up a seat in the "colored" section.
Parks was not the first African American to refuse to give up her
seat to a white person. The NAACP accepted and litigated other cases
before, such as that of Irene Morgan, ten years earlier, which resulted
in a victory in the Supreme Court on Commerce Clause grounds. That
victory only overturned state segregation laws as applied to actual
travel in interstate commerce, such as interstate bus travel. The Rosa
Parks case is considered the landmark because it applied to all segregationist
laws, not just those affecting interstate commerce.
Jackie Robinson took a similar, but less-well-known, stand while an
Army officer in 1944 in Fort Hood, Texas, refusing to move to the back
of a bus. He was brought before a court martial, which acquitted him.
The NAACP had additionally considered but rejected some earlier protesters
deemed unable or unsuitable to withstand the pressure of a legal challenge
to segregation laws (see Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith). The
selection of Parks for a test case supported by the NAACP has been
speculated to be in part because she was employed by the NAACP.
A scene in the 2002 film Barbershop, where characters discuss earlier
instances of African-Americans refusing to give up their bus seats,
caused activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to launch a boycott
against the film.
1994 mugging incident.
In 1994, Rosa Parks was attacked and mugged in her Detroit home by
Joseph Skipper. She had a total of $53 stolen from her. The incident
created outrage throughout America after Parks admitted she had asked
Skipper "Do you know who I am?" Before beating her, Skipper
(an African American, himself) was reported to have stated he did know
who Rosa Parks was but didn't care.
Lawsuit against OutKast.
In 1999, Parks's lawyer sued hip hop band OutKast for using her name
in the song "Rosa Parks" from the album Aquemini. The initial
lawsuit was dismissed. Parks' caretakers hired lawyer Johnnie Cochran
to appeal the decision in 2001, but this too was denied, on First Amendment
grounds. In 2003, the Supreme Court allowed Parks' lawyers to proceed
with her lawsuit against OutKast.
In 2004, the judge in the case appointed an impartial representative
for Parks after her family expressed concerns that her caretakers and
her lawyers were pursuing the case based on their own financial interest.
"My auntie would never, ever go to this length to hurt some young
artists trying to make it in the world" Parks' niece, Rhea McCauley,
said in an Associated Press interview".As a family, our fear
is that during her last days Auntie Rosa will be surrounded by strangers
trying to make money off of her name".
OutKast was dismissed from the suit once and for all that August.
Parks' attorneys and caretaker refiled and named BMG, Arista Records
and LaFace Records as the defendants, asking for $5 billion in damages.
The lawsuit was settled on April 15, 2005. In the settlement agreement,
OutKast and their producers and record labels agreed to work with the
Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development in creating educational
programs on the life of Rosa Parks. The record labels and OutKast did
not have to admit any wrongdoing.