Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1913, and grew up on a farm outside Montgomery with her mother, younger brother, and maternal grandparents. She experienced racial discrimination from a young age, developing a lifelong resolve to push back against injustice.
In 1932 she married Raymond Parks, a Montgomery barber and member of the local NAACP. Mr. Parks initially discouraged his young wife from participating, fearing for her safety, but by 1943, she was active in the chapter and serving as its secretary. She founded the Montgomery NAACP Youth Council in the early 1940 and would later travel throughout the state interviewing victims of discrimination and witnesses to lynchings.
On the evening of December 1, 1955, Parks boarded a bus after a long day at her job as a seamstress at Montgomery Fair department store. City law required segregation on buses, and it had become standard practice for drivers to require black passengers to give up their seats for whites, even though Blacks made up 75 percent of riders.
Parks was married, employed, and well-respected in her community — and also ready to challenge the segregation ordinance. As the bus filled up, Parks had already decided that she would not move as an act of passive resistance.
“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired,” said Parks in her autobiography, “but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” She was arrested and charged with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code.
One of the friends who would bail her out was E.D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. On the day of Parks’s trial, approximately 40,000 black riders boycotted the Montgomery bus system. To ensure the boycott could be sustained, leaders organized carpools, and Black taxi drivers charged only 10 cents — the same price as bus fare.
The boycott lasted 381 days. In June 1956, a Montgomery federal court ruled that any law requiring racially segregated seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The city appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the earlier ruling.
Parks had become the face of the civil rights movement, but she lost her job and endured threats of violence in the process. She and Raymond moved to Detroit, where she helped elect Democrat John Conyers, Sr. to Congress and served as his secretary until 1988.
Rosa Parks died in 2005 of natural causes at the age of 92. She was the first woman, and only the second Black person, to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.