Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Rosa Louise Parks (born February 4, 1913 as Rosa Louise McCauley) is a retired African-American seamstress and figure in the American Civil Rights Movement, most famous for her refusal in 1955 to give up a bus seat to a white man and her subsequent arrest.
Civil rights and political activity
In the early 1950s, Parks became active in the American Civil Rights Movement and worked as a secretary for the Montgomery, Alabama branch of the NAACP. She also attended the Highlander Folk School, an education center for workers' rights and racial equality.
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Parks refused to obey a public bus driver's orders to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for disorderly conduct.
Partially in response to her arrest, Martin Luther King, Jr., then a relatively unknown Baptist minister, led the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, which forced the public transportation authority to end the practice of racial segregation on public buses. This event helped spark many other protests against segregation.
Afterwards, Parks became an icon of the civil rights movement. She moved to Detroit in the early 1960s and served on the staff of U. S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) from 1965 until 1988. She continues to reside in Detroit.
Debated aspects of Parks' story and its place in the civil rights movement
While few historians doubt Park's contribution to the civil rights movement or the bravery of her refusal, some have questioned some of the more mythic elements of her story.
Standard accounts of Parks' act of civil disobedience in 1955 refer to her simply as a "tired seamstress." Parks stated in her autobiography, My Life, that it was not true that she was physically tired but was "tired of giving in."
Many accounts fail to clarify: she was sitting in the "colored" section of the bus. With the "white" section full, a white man wanted her to give up her seat. That is, it was not a matter of protest on any level when she sat down; the protest was in her refusal to give up a seat in the "colored" section.
Parks was not the first African-American to refuse to give up her seat to a white person. The NAACP accepted and litigated other cases before, such as that of Irene Morgan, ten years earlier, which resulted in a victory in the Supreme Court on Commerce Clause grounds. That victory only overturned state segregation laws as applied to actual travel in interstate commerce, such as interstate bus travel. The Rosa Parks case is considered the landmark because it applied to all segregationist laws, not just those affecting interstate commerce.
The NAACP had additionally considered but rejected some earlier protesters deemed unable or unsuitable to withstand the pressure of a legal challenge to segregation laws (see Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith). The selection of Parks for a test case supported by the NAACP has been speculated to be in part because she was employed by the NAACP.
A scene in the 2002 film Barbershop, where characters discuss earlier instances of African-Americans refusing to give up their bus seats, caused activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to launch a boycott against the film.
Awards and honors
After a lifetime of activity fighting racism, Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, was dedicated to her in November 2001. It tells the story of the events leading up to her historic act of civil disobedience, and how her simple act connects to the larger tapestry of the civil rights movement.
1994 mugging incident
In 1994, Rosa Parks was attacked and mugged in her Detroit home by Joseph Skipper. She had a total of $53 stolen from her. The incident created outrage throughout America after Parks admitted she had asked Skipper "Do you know who I am?". Before beating her, Skipper (an African American, himself) was reported to have stated he did know who Rosa Parks was but didn't care.
Lawsuit against OutKast
In 1999, Parks's lawyer sued hip hop band OutKast for using her name in the song Rosa Parks . The initial lawsuit was dismissed. Parks' caretakers hired lawyer Johnnie Cochran to appeal the decision in 2001, but this too was denied, on First Amendment grounds. In 2003, the Supreme Court allowed Parks' lawyers to proceed with her lawsuit against OutKast.
In 2004, the judge in the case appointed an impartial representative for Parks after her family expressed concerns that her caretakers and her lawyers were pursuing the case based on their own financial interest.
"My auntie would never, ever go to this length to hurt some young artists trying to make it in the world," Parks' niece, Rhea McCauley , said in an Associated Press interview. "As a family, our fear is that during her last days Auntie Rosa will be surrounded by strangers trying to make money off of her name."
OutKast was dismissed from the suit once and for all that August. Parks' attorneys and caretaker refiled and named BMG, Arista Records and LaFace Records as the defendants, asking for $5 billion in damages.
The lawsuit was settled on April 14, 2005. In the settlement agreement, OutKast and their producers and record labels agreed to work with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development in creating educational programs on the life of Rosa Parks. The record labels and OutKast did not have to admit any wrongdoing.
- Editorial. 1974. "Two decades later." New York Times (May 17): 38. ("Within a year of Brown, Rosa Parks, a tired seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, was, like Homer Plessy sixty years earlier, arrested, for her refusal to move to the back of the bus.")
- The Rosa Parks Library and Museum at TSUM
- The mug shot of Rosa Parks after she was arrested
- Bruderhof Peacemakers Guide profile on Rosa Parks
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