This February 4th marked the 100th birthday of modern American and Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913; she attended rural schools until the age of eleven, and she would later attend a laboratory school set up by the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes for secondary education.
Although she did not realize it at the time, buses would play an integral role in her understanding of a segregated society. School bus transportation was unavailable in any form for black schoolchildren in the South, and black education was always underfunded.
She later recalled her experiences while attending elementary school, when the school buses took the white students to their new school, and black students would walk to theirs.
"I'd see the bus pass every day... But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.
In 1932, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery and a member of the NAACP; she joined its Montgomery chapter in 1943 and was elected secretary, serving as such until 1957.
Her moment of courage and distinction within American history occurred on Thursday, December 1, 1955 in downtown Montgomery, Alabama.
In 1900, Montgomery passed a city ordinance segregating bus passengers by race; conductors were empowered to assign seats to achieve that goal.
The first four rows of seats on each Montgomery bus were reserved for whites. Black people could sit in the middle rows until the white section filled; if more whites needed seats, blacks were to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus.
After working all day, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus around 6 p.m., Thursday, December 1, 1955, in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "colored" section.
Near the middle of the bus, her row was directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers. As the bus traveled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. The bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, and several white passengers boarded.
The driver noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers, with two or three standing. He moved the "colored" section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit.
Parks moved, but toward the window seat; she did not get up to move to the re-designated colored section. The driver called the police to arrest Parks, and as the officer took her away, Parks recalled that she asked, "Why do you push us around?" She remembered the officer saying, "I don't know, but the law's the law, and you're under arrest."
Parks was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of the Montgomery City code. She would be found guilty and fined $10 plus $4 in court fees.
On the day of Parks' trial — December 5, 1955 — the Women’s Political Caucus helped organize a bus boycott, asking all blacks to not use buses on the trial date.
It rained that day, but the black community persevered in their boycott. In the end, black residents of Montgomery continued the boycott for 381 days, at considerable personal sacrifice.
Dozens of public buses stood idle for months, severely damaging the bus transit company's finances, until the city repealed its law requiring segregation on public buses following the US Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional.
Parks herself would work as a seamstress until 1965, when US Representative John Conyers hired her as a secretary and receptionist for his congressional office in Detroit. She held this position until she retired in 1988.
Parks resided in Detroit until she died of natural causes at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005, in her apartment on the east side of the city. She and her husband never had children and she was survived by her sister-in-law, 13 nieces and nephews and their families, and several cousins, most of them residents of Michigan or Alabama.
Even after her death Parks’ continued to make history, as her coffin was laid in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Parks was the 31st person, the first American who had not been a U.S. government official, and the second private person to be honored in this way. She was the first woman and the second black person to lie in state in the Capitol