10 Things You May Not Know About Rosa ParksFeb 04, 2021 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Rosa Parks Day is an American observance to honor civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks Day is not a public holiday but it is observed in California and Missouri on February 4, which is her birthday, and Alabama, Ohio, and Oregon on December 1. On December 1, 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks was traveling in a Montgomery City bus when the bus driver asked her to vacate her seat for a White man and she refused. Parks was arrested and convicted of violating the laws of segregation, known as the "Jim Crow" laws.
Parks appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of segregation while civil rights activist and leader, Martin Luther King Jr, planned to boycott the Montgomery bus system. The boycott lasted for 381 days and ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. Rosa Parks became a symbol for fighting for equality. This year, we’d like to highlight some lesser-known fascinating facts of the courageous Rosa Parks.
- Parks was a civil rights activist 12 years before she refused to give up her seat. She became active in the movement in 1943 and joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Montgomery as its secretary.
- Parks was named one of Time magazine's "20 Most Influential People of the 20th Century" in 1999. In 1996, former President of the United States, Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the U.S executive branch. In 1997, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S legislative branch.
- Parks had a previous encounter with James Blake, the bus driver who demanded she vacate her seat. In 1943, Blake removed her from his bus after she refused to re-enter the vehicle through the back door after paying her fare at the front. “I never wanted to be on that man’s bus again,” she wrote in her autobiography. “After that, I made a point of looking at who was driving the bus before I got on. I didn’t want any more run-ins with that mean one.” When the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended on December 21, 1956, one of the newly integrated buses that Parks boarded to pose for press photographs happened to be driven by Blake.
- Parks was not sitting in a whites-only section. She was sitting in the front row of a middle section of the bus open to Black people if seats were vacant. After the “whites-only” section filled on subsequent stops and a white man was left standing, the driver demanded that Parks and three others in the row leave their seats. Parks was the only one who did not move.
- During the Montgomery boycott Parks and her husband, Raymond, lost their jobs, received death threats, and eventually moved to Detroit in 1957 along with her mother.
- Parks was not the first Black woman to be arrested for refusing to yield her seat on a Montgomery bus. Nine months before Parks was jailed, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was the first Montgomery bus passenger to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger. Three other Black women—Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith and Susie McDonald— ignored the bus segregation law prior to Parks. The four were plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling bus segregation unconstitutional.
In Detroit, Parks worked as a secretary for U.S Representative John Conyers' congressional office, as well as serving on the board of Planned Parenthood.
Parks was the first woman to lie at the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol. When she died of natural causes at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005, Parks became the first woman to lie in state, a tribute usually reserved for statesmen and military leaders. More than 30,000 filed by her casket to pay their respects and the chapel where the funeral service was held was eventually renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel.
Bus seats were left empty to honor Parks on the 50th anniversary of her arrest on December 1, 2005. Transit authorities in New York City, Washington, D.C. and other American cities symbolically left the seats behind bus drivers empty to commemorate Parks’ act of civil disobedience.
- Parks is the first Black woman to earn a statue in the State Capitol’s Statutory in 2013. Upon signing the Bill to place her statue in the Hall. President George Bush said “By placing her statue in the heart of the nation’s capital, we commemorate her work for a more perfect union, and we commit ourselves to continue to struggle for justice for every American.”
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.
She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.