Civil-rights activist. Born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus spurred on a city-wide boycott and helped launch nation-wide efforts to end segregation of public facilities.
Early Life and Education
Rosa Parks' childhood brought her early experiences with racial discrimination and activism for racial equality. After her parents separated, Rosa's mother moved the family to Pine Level, Alabama to live with her parents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards, on their farm. Both her grandparents were former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality. In one experience, Rosa's grandfather stood in front of their house with a shotgun while Ku Klux Klan members marched down the street. The city of Pine Level, Alabama had a new school building and bus transportation for white students while African-American students walked to the one-room schoolhouse, often lacking desks and adequate school supplies.
Through the rest of Rosa's education, she attended segregated schools in Montgomery. In 1929, while a junior in the eleventh grade, she left school to attend to her sick grandmother in Pine Level. She never returned, but instead got a job at a shirt factory in Montgomery. In 1932, Rosa married a barber named Raymond Parks who was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With Raymond's support, Rosa Parks finished her high school degree in 1933. She soon became actively involved in civil rights issues my joining the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, serving as the secretary to the president, E.D. Nixon until 1957.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery, Alabama city code required that all public transportation be segregated and that bus drivers had the "powers of a police officer of the city while in actual charge of any bus for the purposes of carrying out the provisions" of the code. While operating a bus, drivers were required to provide separate but equal accommodations for white and black passengers by assigning seats. This was accomplished with a line roughly in the middle of the bus separating white passengers in the front of the bus and African-American passengers in the back. When an African-American passenger boarded the bus, they had to get on at the front to pay their fare and then get off and re-board the bus at the back door. When the seats in the front of the bus filled up and more white passengers got on, the bus driver would move back the sign separating black and white passengers and, if necessary, ask black passengers give up their seat.
On December 1, 1955, after a long day at work at the Montgomery Fair department store, Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus for home. She took a seat in the first of several rows designated for "colored" passengers. Though the city's bus ordinance did give drivers the authority to assign seats, it didn't specifically give them the authority to demand a passenger to give up a seat to anyone (regardless of color). However, Montgomery bus drivers had adopted the custom of requiring black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers, when no other seats were available. If the black passenger protested, the bus driver had the authority to refuse service and could call the police to have them removed.