One of the icons of the civil rights movement, the legacy of Rosa Parks has lived on for generations as a sign of strength and courage amid hostile discrimination.
Parks, who would’ve turned 107 years old today, is best known for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated Alabama bus, which not only led to her arrest, but sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The galvanizing boycott lasted for over a year, culminating with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down segregation laws on public transportation.
Parks died in 2005 at the age of 92, but the Alabama native’s refusal to give up her bus seat on Dec. 1, 1955, lives on as a iconic story in American history. Here are five facts about that moment and the woman responsible for it:
1. Parks wasn’t the first
Fifteen-year-old civil rights activist Claudette Colvin came before Parks in making news for being dragged off a bus and jailed for not giving up her seat. But she became pregnant soon after her arrest and civil rights leaders opted against using her as the case to spark a movement. That’s where Rosa Parks came in.
Black History Month:One seat on every bus in Louisville, Kentucky, honors Rosa Parks
2. She was an activist
Parks was a seamstress by trade, but was deeply active in the NAACP, working to improve civil rights in her community. Her Dec. 1 action of refusing to give her seat in the black section of the bus to a white man was calculated, but not planned for that time. “I got on the bus to go home,” Parks has said.
3. Parks knew the bus driver
The driver was James Blake, who had a reputation for treating black passengers without dignity. More than a decade earlier, Blake stopped Parks from entering the front of the bus, telling her to use the back entrance, then sped away before she got on.
10 must-read Black History Month book recommendations:Zora Neale Hurston, Kiley Reid and more
4. Parks’ arrest was supposed to spark a one-day boycott
Activist E.D. Nixon, who was president of Montgomery’s NAACP chapter, led the effort to turn Parks’ arrest into a one-day boycott. It was such a success that it transformed into a broader boycott until buses were desegregated, or black people were treated better.
5. It lasted more than a year – and helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement
After Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech at Holt Street Baptist Church asking people to join in the fight against segregation, thousands of passengers boycotted Montgomery’s buses regularly for the 381 days it lasted. The boycott dealt a serious financial blow to transportation services – more than 70% of the city’s bus patrons were black. Montgomery bus lines lost between 30,000 and 40,000 bus fares each day during the successful boycott. .
And that was just the beginning.
Black History Month essay:I searched a continent a world away, hoping to find ‘home’