Contribution: She helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.
Age: 92 (1913 - 2005)
Called "the mother of the civil rights movement," Rosa Parks invigorated the struggle for racial equality when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks' arrest on December 1, 1955 launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott by 17,000 black citizens. A Supreme Court ruling and declining revenues forced the city to desegregate its buses thirteen months later. Parks became an instant icon, but her resistance was a natural extension of a lifelong commitment to activism. Over the years, she had repeatedly disobeyed bus segregation regulations. Once, she even had been put off a bus for her defiance.
Rosa Louise McCauley spent the first years of her life on a small farm with her mother, grandparents and brother. She witnessed night rides by the Kus Klux Klan and listened in fear as lynchings occurred near her home. The family moved to Montgomery; Rosa went to school and became a seamstress. She married barber Raymond Parks in 1932, and the couple joined the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When she inspired the bus boycott, Parks had been the secretary of the local NAACP for twelve years (1943-1956). Parks founded the Montgomery NAACP Youth Council in the early 1940s. Later, as secretary of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, she traveled throughout the state interviewing victims of discrimination and witnesses to lynchings.
In the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Parks lost her tailoring job and received death threats. She and her family moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1957. However, she remained an active member of the NAACP and worked for Congressman John Conyers (1965-1988) helping the homeless find housing. The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute Of Self-Development was established in 1987 to offer job training for black youth. In 1999, Parks received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) also sponsors an annual Rosa Parks Freedom Award.