Rosa Parks, the woman who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus to a white man and thereby launched the modern civil rights movement, died at her home in Detroit Monday night. She was 92.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks, a seamstress who lived in Montgomery, forever changed American history while riding a bus home from work. At that time, many places in the South such as buses, restaurants and other public facilities were segregated according to Jim Crow laws that had been in place since the Civil War.
Parks was seated at the front of the black section of the crowded bus when the driver demanded that she move farther back to make room for a white man. The 42-year-old woman refused to move, and was arrested by police and jailed.
Her arrest led to 381-day boycott by blacks (who comprised two-thirds of the system’s riders) of Montgomery’s buses. That boycott was organized by Rev. Martin Luther King and sparked the civil rights movement.
Popular history often portrays Parks as someone whose feet hurt and who was too tired to move. But in 1992 she corrected that sentiment: “The real reason of my not standing up was that I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “We had endured that kind of treatment for too long.”
At the time, Parks said, she had no idea her actions would inflame such a movement. “The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in,” she said.
The bus boycott took place a year after the Supreme Court’s ruling for Brown v. Board of Education that ended racial segregation in public schools, but it wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act, banning racial discrimination in public accommodations, was passed.
After the boycott, Parks became the target of threats and relocated to Detroit in 1957. She went to work for U.S. Rep. John Conyers, and was an active member of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Her husband Raymond Parks, whom she married in 1932, died in 1977.