Rosa Parks has been called the spark that lit the fire, and the mother of the movement. Her courage to defy custom and law to uphold her personal rights and dignity inspired the Black in Montgomery, Alabama, to fight for their rights by staging one of the longest boycotts in history.
Born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, she was raised by her mother and grandparents in Tuskegee and Montgomery. After attending segregated schools, she went to the all-black Alabama State College. In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, a barber. Both of them worked for the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, and Rosa became local NAACP secretary in the 1950s.
On December 1, 1955, as Parks was riding home from work, she was ordered by the bus driver to give up her seat so that a white man might sit. She refused. She was arrested and fined $14. Her case was the last straw for the blacks of Montgomery, as tired of being underclass citizens as Parks was. A city-wide boycott was organized to force the city to desegregate public transportation. A young, unknown minister by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. became involved, and lectured the nation on the injustice of it all. Blacks, and a few whites, organized peacefully together to transport boycotters to and from work, and they continued, despite opposition from the city and state governments, for 382 days.
When the boycott ended on December 21, 1956, both Parks and King were national heroes, and the Supreme Court had ruled that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional. The mass movement of non-violent social change that was started would last over a decade, and would culminate in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Because of the harassment Rosa Parks and her family received during and after the boycott, they moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1957. She found a job with Congressman John Conyers, but continued to be involved in the civil rights struggle. She gave speeches and attended marches and demonstrations. She marched on Washington in 1963, and into Montgomery in 1965. Even as her life has quieted down, she has received tributes for her dedication and inspiration; in 1980, she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize. As she headed towards retirement from John Conyers office in 1988, she became involved in other activities, like the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute of Self Development in Detroit, founded in 1987.