Rosa Louise McCauley—known to history by her married name, Rosa Parks—is born in Tuskegee, Alabama on February 4, 1913. A lifelong Civil Rights activist, Parks' name has become synonymous with her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in 1955, a defining moment of the civil rights movement.
Parks was born and raised during the Jim Crow Era, a time of ubiquitous and strictly-enforced racial segregation in the South. As a young girl, she watched white students ride to school on a bus while she had to walk. "The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world," she later recalled. After moving to Montgomery, she married Raymond Parks, a barber who was heavily involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and became involved with the nascent Civil Rights struggle. In 1943, due largely to her being the only woman at the meeting, she was elected Secretary of the NAACP's Montgomery chapter. In this role, Parks dealt with the local media, corresponded with other NAACP chapters and processed the many reports of injustice which the organization received.
It was partially because of her contributions to the movement and standing in the community that local leaders chose to rally behind Parks when, on December 1st, 1955, she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Parks, like several other women that year, was arrested and fined for violating Jim Crow laws, but it was her action that set the Montgomery Bus Boycott into motion. Civil Rights activists in Montgomery, including the young Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been waiting for the appropriate moment to challenge the city's segregated transit system. They succeeded in organizing the African American community of Montgomery to boycott the buses for over a year, until a court ruling officially desegregated them on December 20, 1956. The boycott and the triumph of its organizers received nationwide coverage and have gone down as one of the major early victories of the Civil Rights Movement.
Parks remained a civil rights advocate for the rest of her life. She moved to Detroit not long after the boycott, but returned to Alabama for the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches and made appearances around the country. For years, she served in the office of Rep. John Conyers, a pioneering congressman from Detroit, acting as a liaison between his office and the community while advocating for housing and economic justice. When Parks died in 2005, she became the first American who was not an elected official to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. A recipient of numerous medals and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Parks continues to hold a hallowed place in the pantheon of American leaders.
READ MORE: Rosa Parks: Her Life and Legacy