Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. When she was a child she was often sick and sadly had to spend a lot of time in bed. Then when she was two their family moved to live with their grandparents on a farm in a town called Pine Level. Rosa loved being on the farm with her family. It gave her and her siblings lots of room to play and spend time with each other. They explored the woods and streams nearby and she enjoyed the school there.
Rosa was safe in Pine Level, but this wasn’t the case in other places in Alabama. Rosa and her family were African American and this was a time when black people were treated poorly in Alabama. They were forced to attend separate schools, used separate bathrooms, and to drink from different drinking fountains. This is called segregation. They were often called mean names or abused.
When Rosa was eleven, she moved to Montogomery, Alabama to go to a better school. It was called the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. The head of the school was a white woman named Alice White. She didn’t go easy on the girls, but this wasn’t because she was mean, it was because she wanted them to learn and grow. Often people who love you, do this because they want to see you be your best you. This motivated Rosa to try her best in school and learn as much as she could. She wanted to become a teacher like Ms. Alice someday.
Rosa stayed at the school until her grandmother became sick, so she moved back to Pine Level to help. There she found jobs to help earn money for her family. She worked very hard to support them.
When Rosa was 28, she met a young man named Raymond. Raymond inspired her to take even more interest in the problems black people were facing in Alabama and other places in the South. He was part of the NAACP, the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People. Rosa was proud of Raymond’s interest in helping this cause. He often put himself in danger for it. Rosa and Raymond fell in love and were married in 1932.
In 1934 Rosa finished high school, then started working as a nurse’s assistant and later at an army air force base. On her way home from work she rode a bus, but like all African Americans at the time she had to ride in the back of the bus. It made her very upset to be treated differently. She didn’t say anything at the time, but she was very angry deep inside.
Around this time Rosa joined the NAACP and helped as a secretary for several years. She also registered to vote. At the time the government in Alabama made it very hard for black people to vote. Rosa had to take a difficult test and pay a tax that was very expensive. When she was finally able to vote she was very happy but also upset that so many of her friends and family were prevented from voting.
Rosa worked very hard for her family through these years and continued to help the NAACP. She was never able to have her own children, but helped the youth through the NAACP. She wanted them to have good lives and took the time to care for them.
To get to and from work, Rosa rode the bus every day. Like other buses in Alabama, this one was segregated which means anyone who was black had to enter the bus from the back and sit at the back of the bus. This day, Rosa took courage and got on the bus through the front. The driver told her to get off and get on through the back. Rosa refused! The driver told her to get off again. She said she would not. The driver grabbed her by the coat and pulled her toward the front of the bus. She sat down again. The driver continued to yell at her. Rosa finally got off the bus, but she had stood up for herself and made her point.
In 1954 Rosa made friends with a white woman named Virginia Durr, who wanted to help her and other African Americans. Virginia encouraged Rosa to attend a workshop in Tennessee that trained people to fight for equal rights for blacks and workers who were treated unfairly. People of all races and different states came together to learn how to make the world a better place. There she met Martin Luther King and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. a black congressman from New York City. There she began thinking about ways to fight racism in her own city.
On December 1st 1955, Rosa left home to catch the Cleveland Avenue bus to go to work. When she got on the bus she realized the driver was the same one who had forced her off the bus a few years earlier. Rosa went to the back of the bus and sat down. As the bus went drover further and more people got on the bus, the bus driver told Rosa and the others in the back to stand up so the white passengers could sit down. Rosa refused to get up. The driver yelled at her to get up, but she did not. The driver threatened to have her arrested. “You may do that,” Rosa replied. Soon, the police officers arrived and took Rosa to jail! She was very afraid. Fortunately, her friends at the NAACP were able to pay to have her released until her trial. She was going to be put on trial for not giving up her seat. Can you believe that?
Rosa and lawyers at the NAACP decided they would sue the bus company for not letting her sit down. Suing is when lawyers use the law to try to punish a company like the bus company by getting money from them. If they won the lawsuit then hopefully the unfair laws would be done away with.
Rosa and her friends also decided to boycott buses that treated them unfairly. A boycott is when you refuse to use something and pay for it, so it punishes the company. If no one paid for bus rides, the bus company would see how much it cost to treat African Americans unfairly. During the days leading up to the boycott, Rosa and others passed out notes urging others to not ride buses on December 5th. If enough people didn’t ride the buses it would send a message to the bus companies. Rosa was nervous about whether it would work.
On December 5, 1955, to Rosa’s excitement, she saw that the buses were empty and thousands of people were walking to work and school instead of riding the buses! They were inspired by Rosa’s actions! Rosa set the example by refusing to give in to the unfair treatment of the city and bus companies. And the boycott didn’t only happen for a day — it went on for an entire year! Never before had so many people in the community come together to fight for civil rights. And the bus companies lost money because very few people rode the buses.
Rosa’s trial also started on December 5, 1955. She lost the trial, but didn’t mind because they wanted it to go to a higher court. People around the country were watching the boycott and knew about Rosa’s trial. They started to send money to her and to the NAACP to support their fight for equality. She began spending all of her time writing and speaking about civil rights. She met other famous leaders and Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was also believed in her cause.
On November 13, 1956 Rosa’s trial went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the most important court in the country. The Supreme Court is located in Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court judges ruled that not allowing people sit where they want on a bus because of their race was against the Constitution — and not legal. Rosa Parks and her friends had scored a huge victory!
Soon after the trial, Rosa rode in the front of the bus and a famous photograph was taken of her to memorialize the event and her bravery in standing up to an unfair system.
While there was still much work to do, Rosa’s act of courage and the result of the trial is often considered one of the first big events in the Civil Rights Movement. In August 1963 over 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C. to show their support for Civil Rights. There Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” Rosa was excited to see so many others speaking out about Civil Rights. Then in 1964, the President signed the Civil Rights Act that made it illegal to treat people differently because of their race.
Eventually, Rosa and her husband moved to Detroit and lived a quiet life there. In 1966 Rosa was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. She received many other awards over the years for her bravery. She wrote books and spoke about her life and passed away at the age of 92.
Spend some time thinking about Rosa and her decision to stand up for herself and for her rights. She was afraid and knew that she might get in trouble for it, but doing what was right was more important than her feelings. She refused to move when the driver told her to move. She knew it was wrong and didn’t back down. There will be times in your life when you will have the chance to stand up for yourself and others. Take courage even when you are afraid. Speak up when something wrong is happening! If not you, then who? You can make a difference in the world by speaking up and taking action.