Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

When a young black woman refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955, she became a symbol of the civil rights movement...

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Rosa Parks_L
Illustration by Terry Pontikos

 

Quick Facts

Profession: Social activist

Famous for: her opposition to racial segregation and being an inspiration to black Americans

Born: February 4, 1913, Tuskegee, Alabama, US

Died: October 24, 2005, Detroit, US

Married: Raymond Parks

 

"I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free... so other people would be also free"

The early years

Find words that mean: proportion, services, people who make an undeveloped place their home, ruled, racial origin

Rosa Louise McCauley was born in a small city in Alabama, a state in the southeast of the United States. Historically the state has had a relatively large percentage of black people, because European settlers brought African slaves there in the early 1700s to work on their cotton fields.

Park's father was a carpenter and her mother was a teacher. She was partly of African-American descent, but also had American-Indian (Cherokee-Creek) and Irish-Scottish blood.

Her parents separated when she was very young. She grew up with her mother on her grandparents' farm. She dropped out of high school to look after her grandparents, and then her mother, when they became sick.

When Parks was growing up, America was governed by the Jim Crow laws. According to these laws, white people and black people had separate public facilities: schools, restaurants and hotels, and even separate seating areas on buses and trains. Of course, facilities for white people were always better.

Acting for change

Find words that mean the opposite: gently, passive, persevering, insignificant, integration

Rosa McCauley became Rosa Parks when she married Raymond Parks in 1932. He encourage d her to finish her high school education. She did the following year. She was one of only 7 per cent of black Americans at the time who did so.

Her husband was active in the Civil Rights Movement, and in 1943, Parks began volunteering as a secretary for the movement. As well as the problem of segregation, black people were fighting for the right to vote in the southern states of the US.

A turning point took place in 1955, just months before Rosa took her historic stand on a public bus. On August 28, a 14-year-old black boy was brutally murdered in Mississippi - allegedly for whistling at a white woman. His body was thrown into a river and only found days later. When his mother insisted his casket be opened at the funeral, some 50,000 people are said to have come to look. Pictures of his body circulated amongst the black community.

Four days before Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person, she had been at a meeting about the murders of the boy, Emmett Till, and two other black people. This was part of the reason she remained seated. But the main reason she did not stand up was because she had had a long day at work and was tired. Later, she explained what she was really tired of was 'giving in'.

A boycott, a movement

Choose the right option

Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on December 1, 1955. The bus driver called the police and they arrested her. She was released on four days later. In the meantime, members of the local black community had begun organising a of the local bus service. It started the day Parks was released. The next day she was tried in court and fined for ' conduct'.

What had started as a one-day boycott lasted for 381 days. Some black people walked as far as 30 kilometres to their jobs rather than take the buses.

At the end of the 381 days, after buses had been empty for months, the segregation law was . Parks had achieved a . She had also launched a movement that changed America. Today the US has a black president.

Parks died in Detroit at the age of 92. She was honoured nationwide and a service was held for her in Washington.

True or false?

To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1 Rosa Parks' parents were farmers.
2 Parks graduated with a degree in politics.
3 Parks refused to give up her seat because she was 'tired of giving in'?
4 Parks became a successful politician after inspiring a social rights movement.

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