Wednesday, February 4, 2015



Tuskegee, Alabama (JFK+50) Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, the acknowledged mother of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, was born here in Tuskegee 102 years ago today, February 4, 1913.

Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated public bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955 and her arrest set off a bus boycott that led to the desegregation of public transportation in the city.

On her way home from work,she boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus downtown at 6 p.m. and sat five rows back in the first row reserved for African-Americans.

When the bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, driver James Blake ordered Ms. Parks and three other black passengers to give up their seats to the boarding white passengers. While the other passengers followed Blake's directions,  Rosa Parks did not and she was arrested for violating Montgomery's segregation code.

Rosa Parks and MLK
 Montgomery, AL (1955)
 US Information Agency Photo

Rosa later recalled...

"When that white driver stepped back toward us...and ordered us out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night."

Mr. Blake called the police and Ms. Parks was arrested, taken to jail, and charged.  Ironically, it was the same driver who had put Rosa Parks off his bus in 1943.

When JFK+50 visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, we learned that Mrs. Park's action was not the first of its kind in the city and that she had training in non-violent protest. 

Rosa was trained at the Highlander Folk School which specialized in the training of activists for worker's rights and later civil rights. The school was founded by Myles Horton and board members included Eleanor Roosevelt.

While Rosa Parks was "prepared" to do what she did, it was she who decided when it was time to do it.

That time came on the first day of December, 1955.

Rosa said after the years passed that some people claimed she was "tired" on that day, but, in her own words, she was just "tired of giving in."

Cleveland Avenue Bus
Henry Ford Museum Source: Eege Fot vum

Rosa Parks was found guilty, given a suspended sentence and fined $10 plus $4 court costs.

The arrest and sentencing of Rosa Parks led directly to establishment of the Montgomery Improvement Association by Rev. Ralph Abernathy and other ministers.  

One week later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said...

"There comes a time that people get tired.  We...are tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression."

Rosa Parks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a statue in the US Capitol's Statuary Hall.

Upon her death at the age of 92 in 2005, Rosa Parks became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.


"We Shall Overcome:  The History of the Civil Rights Movement As It Happened," by Herb Boyd, Sourcebooks Inc., Naperville, IL, 2004.