Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, AL. Her father was a carpenter and her mother was a teacher. As a young girl she attended the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. Miss White’s school was started after the Civil War when a group of New England women came to Montgomery and started a school.
They taught their pupils that they were American citizens and that they were just as good as anybody else and they had all the rights and entitlements of American citizens. Those lessons were not lost on Rosa Parks. She attended Alabama State Teachers College and afterwards she and her husband, Raymond decided to stay in Montgomery.
Rosa and Raymond joined the local NAACP chapter and became active in local activities. She served as secretary of the NAACP. On several occasions she tried to register to vote and was rebuffed by local officials. Besides looking at voter registration problems the NAACP was also looking into cases of flogging, peonage, murder, and rape of Black citizens.
It was a simple act of defiance that vaulted the young seamstress into the national spotlight and galvanized a national movement. On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks decided to keep her seat on a Montgomery bus instead of giving the seat to a white man.
"Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it. I kept thinking about my mother and my grandparents, and how strong they were. I knew there was a possibility of being mistreated, but an opportunity was being given to me to do what I had asked of others," wrote Parks in her book Quiet Strength.
The racism and segregation of that time had finally met its match in a tiny seamstress with a mighty determination. She was arrested and fined for disorderly conduct because city officials didn't want the segregation laws challenged in court.
Prior to this time activists in the area had been divided on how to proceed to insure everyone knew African-Americans were dedicated to the task of being included equally in all aspects of Alabama life. Although Claudette Colvin had earlier in the year kept her seat on a city bus and years earlier a woman in South Carolina had violated that state's segregation policies on a bus, the Rosa Parks incident finally sparked the creation of a unified effort.
That effort was exemplified in the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The association decided if Blacks could not ride the city buses as equals, they would just not ride the city buses.
This presented a hardship to most African-Americans in the community because they relied heavily on the city buses to take them to and from work in the white neighborhoods were most were employed. The dedication and perseverance of the Black community lasted 382 days when at last the Supreme Court struck down the Montgomery ordinance under which Mrs. Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.
In 1957, the Parks moved to Detroit. Mrs. Parks worked for U.S. Representative John Conyers. She started the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The Institute sponsors an annual summer program for teenagers called Pathways to Freedom for young people age 11-18. The young people tour the country in buses, under adult supervision, learning the history of their country and of the civil rights movement.
Mrs. Parks has never been comfortable with people believing she was the one who started the bus boycott. "Four decades later I am still uncomfortable with the credit given to me for starting the bus boycott. I would like [people] to know I was not the only person involved. I was just one of many who fought for freedom," Parks wrote in Quiet Strength.