OUR Latest + GREATEST
Read more on our Blog
Rosa Parks, called the "mother of the civil rights movement," is best known for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. But Parks was a lifelong activist who had been challenging white supremacy long before then. She stated, "I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it any more."
Even in childhood, she refused to normalize a segregated society. Her grandma chastised her for picking up a brick to challenge a white bully as a young girl. She also spoke up against a white neighbor of her domestic employer who threatened sexual assault. Her autobiography and collection of papers in the The Rosa Parks Collection show a life dedicated to fighting oppression.
Parks joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943 and became branch secretary, devoting the next decade to seeking justice for black victims of white brutality and sexual violence, pressing for desegregation of schools and public spaces and pushing for voter registration. Throughout her life, Parks fought for women's rights — from justice for black women who were raped to defending the rights of female prisoners. While those who challenged the racial order like she did were labeled “radicals, sore heads, agitators, trouble makers,” Parks was indeed red-baited and received death threats and hate mail for years in Montgomery and later in Detroit (after she and her family relocated there) for her movement work.
In 1999, Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor the United States bestows on a civilian. Parks was also the first woman in American history to have her body lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.