Rosa grew up in the southern United States in Alabama. Her full name was Rosa Louise McCauley and she was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on February 4, 1913 to Leona and James McCauley. Her mother was a teacher and her father a carpenter. She had a younger brother named Sylvester.
Her parents separated while she was still young and she, with her mother and brother, went to live on her grandparent's farm in the nearby town of Pine Level. Rosa went to the local school for African-American children where her mother was a teacher.
Going to School
Rosa's mother wanted her to get a high school education, but this wasn't easy for an African-American girl living in Alabama in the 1920s. After finishing up elementary school at Pine Level she attended the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. Then she attended the Alabama State Teacher's College in order to try and get her high school diploma. Unfortunately, Rosa's education was cut short when her mother became very ill. Rosa left school to care for her mother.
A few years later Rosa met Raymond Parks. Raymond was a successful barber who worked in Montgomery. They married a year later in 1932. Rosa worked part time jobs and went back to school, finally earning her high school diploma. Something she was very proud of.
During this time, the city of Montgomery was segregated. This meant that things were different for white people and black people. They had different schools, different churches, different stores, different elevators, and even different drinking fountains. Places often had signs saying "For Colored Only" or "For Whites Only". When Rosa would ride the bus to work, she would have to sit in the back in the seats marked "for colored". Sometimes she would have to stand even if there were seats open up front.
Fighting for Equal Rights
Growing up Rosa had lived with racism in the south. She was scared of the members of the KKK who had burned down black school houses and churches. She also saw a black man get beaten by a white bus driver for getting in his way. The bus driver only had to pay a $24 fine. Rosa and her husband Raymond wanted to do something about it. They joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Rosa saw the opportunity to do something when the Freedom Train arrived in Montgomery. The train was supposed to not be segregated according to the Supreme Court. So Rosa led a group of African-American students to the train. They attended the exposition on the train at the same time and in the same line as the white students. Some people in Montgomery didn't like this, but Rosa wanted to show them that all people should be treated the same.
Sitting on the Bus
It was on December 1, 1955 that Rosa made her famous stand (while sitting) on the bus. Rosa had settled in her seat on the bus after a hard day's work. All the seats on the bus had filled up when a white man boarded. The bus driver told Rosa and some other African-Americans to stand up. Rosa refused. The bus driver said he would call the police. Rosa didn't move. Soon the police showed up and Rosa was arrested.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa was charged with breaking a segregation law and was told to pay a fine of $10. She refused to pay, however, saying that she was not guilty and that the law was illegal. She appealed to a higher court.
That night a number of African-American leaders got together and decided to boycott the city buses. This meant that African-Americans would no longer ride the buses. One of these leaders was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He became the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which helped to lead the boycott.
It wasn't easy for people to boycott the buses as many African-Americans didn't have cars. They had to walk to work or get a ride in a carpool. Many people couldn't go into town to buy things. However, they stuck together in order to make a statement.
The boycott continued for 381 days! Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregation laws in Alabama were unconstitutional.
After the Boycott
Just because the laws were changed, things didn't get any easier for Rosa. She received many threats and feared for her life. Many of the civil rights leader's houses were bombed, including the home of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1957 Rosa and Raymond moved to Detroit, Michigan.
Rosa Parks and Bill Clinton by Unknown
Rosa continued to attend civil rights meetings. She became a symbol to many African-Americans of the fight for equal rights. She is still a symbol of freedom and equality to many today.
Fun Facts about Rosa Parks
Rosa was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rosa often worked as a seamstress when she needed a job or to make some extra money.
You can visit the actual bus that Rosa Parks sat in at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.
When she lived in Detroit, she worked as a secretary for U.S. Representative John Conyers for many years.
She wrote an autobiography called Rosa Parks: My Story in 1992.