Rosa Parks is famous for her refusal to give up her seat to a White passenger on a bus. Her act of civil disobedience, on December 1, 1955, led to the Montgomery bus boycott, and ultimately the desegregation of buses in the city.
This furthered the cause of the organization for racial and economic equality in America. But that is not the only thing she did in her fight for equal rights for Black Americans. Here are some facts about the civil rights activist born on this day (February 4) in 1913.
Her fight for equal rights didn’t start with her arrest
More than a decade before Parks became a civil rights icon for refusing to give up her bus seat, she was a sexual assault investigator. Having joined the Montgomery, Alabama, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1943, she began work on criminal justice in communities in Alabama. She ensured that Black men were protected from false accusations and lynchings while also seeing to it that Black women who had been sexually assaulted by White men were given opportunities to be heard and to defend themselves in a court of law.
She dropped out of school as a teen
Parks dropped out of school when she was 16 to take care of her grandmother who was unwell and dying. At age 19, her husband encouraged her to finish her high school education. Parks earned her diploma in 1933, making her part of the “mere 7 percent of Black Americans at the time to earn the distinction”, according to history.
The driver who asked Parks to vacate her seat had issues with her decades earlier
James Blake, the bus driver who had Parks arrested in 1955 after asking her to move from her seat, had issues with her before that fateful arrest. In 1943, Parks boarded a bus driven by Blake. After paying her fare at the front of the bus, Blake told her to exit and re-enter through the back doors. Blake, instead of waiting for her to re-enter the bus, drove away once Parks was off the vehicle. Parks wrote in her biography that she never wanted to be on Blake’s bus again and always checked to see who was driving a bus before she entered. More than 10 years later, she boarded Blake’s bus without checking, and after refusing to give up her seat, he had her arrested.
Parks never set out to be arrested
Parks was aware that the NAACP wanted a lead plaintiff in a case to test the constitutionality of the Jim Crow law, but she never planned to be arrested on a bus. In other words, her well-known act of civil disobedience was not planned beforehand. She wrote in her autobiography that she was so engrossed in thought that day that she didn’t pay attention to who was driving the bus. “If I had been paying attention, I wouldn’t even have gotten on that bus,” she wrote. Her arrest started the bus boycott which ended after the U.S. Supreme Court forced Montgomery to integrate the buses.
She was not sitting in a whites-only section
At the time of her arrest, Parks was not sitting in a whites-only section but in the front row of a middle section of the bus where African Americans could sit if seats were vacant. Later when the whites-only section got filled and a White man was left standing, the driver told Parks and three others in the row to leave their seats. The three moved but Parks did not.
Parks was arrested a second time
Weeks after her historic arrest, Parks was arrested again on February 22, 1956. She was arrested with around 100 of her fellow protesters for breaking segregation laws during the Montgomery bus boycott. A photograph of her being fingerprinted by a police officer came from this second arrest.
Parks helped find housing for the homeless
Parks lost her department store job after her 1955 arrest. Her husband also left his job after his employers banned any discussion of the boycott or his wife at work. And amid death threats, Parks decided to move from Montgomery to Detroit with her husband. There, she worked as an administrative aide for Congressman John Conyers, Jr., and helped in finding housing for the homeless.
Parks was the first woman to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol
Following her death on October 24, 2005, at age 92, Parks’ body was brought to the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, making her the first woman to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol. Thousands of people were present to pay their respects.