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Rosa Parks: Biography, Quotes, Impact

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a Black woman named Rosa Parks finished her work day and caught a bus home. Segregation was the law of the land in Montgomery, so while the front of the bus was available to white citizens, Black people had to go to the back. When all the white seats were taken, the bus driver told all the Black people they needed to give up their seats to add an extra row for white people. Rosa Parks stayed seated. The police were called and she was arrested. This defiant act sparked a nationwide campaign to end segregation, protect the rights of Black people and usher in a new era of equality and freedom. In this article, we’ll explore who

Rosa Parks was, what she had to say about her activism and beliefs, and the impact she had on the United States.

By refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus, Rosa Parks is known as “the mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” Her decision sparked campaigns around the country, which eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Who was Rosa Parks and what did she do?

Rosa Parks was born Rosa McCauley on February 4, 1913. She received her early education at a private school, but while caring for both her grandmother and mother, Rosa had to delay completing her high school credits. In 1932, she married Raymond Parks and then received her high school diploma in 1934. Raymond had less formal education than Rosa, but was an extremely intelligent, activism-minded individual. Both Rosa and Raymond worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1955, Rosa was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat. Anti-segregation activists organized a boycott of Montgomery buses for the day of Rosa’s trial. She was given a suspended sentence and a fine, but the boycott was more successful than anticipated. Activists decided to keep boycotting the bus system, electing Martin Luther King Jr., who had just arrived in the city, as the boycott’s manager. Over 70% of Montgomery’s bus patrons were Black, so the impact was immediate. To sustain the boycott, 200 people volunteered their cars while 100 pickup stations were established. Churches also held fundraisers to fund the carpool. On November 13th, 1956, after more than a year of the boycott, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional.

Systemic racism is still a problem in the United States. Check out our article of 10 examples.

What happened to Rosa Parks after the boycott?

During the bus boycott, Rosa lost her job and faced severe harassment, including death threats. Things didn’t improve after the boycott’s success, so in 1957, Rosa, her husband, and her mother moved to Detroit, Michigan. As the Civil Rights movement continued, so did Rosa’s activism, despite the personal costs she and her family endured. From 1966 until her retirement in 1988, she worked as an administrative aid in Congressman John Conyers’ office. She also co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The nonprofit served young people. Rosa and Raymond never had children of their own, but young people were always important to Rosa. Before Rosa’s arrest, 15-year Claudette Colvin had been arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat. This injustice did not spark a boycott, but Rosa reached out to Claudette. For a while, they were close.

In 1999, Rosa was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor a US civilian can earn. She received many other awards and honorary doctorates from universities around the world. In 2000, Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama established the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. In 2005, Rosa died at age 92. She became the first woman in American history to lie in honor at the Capitol.

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What are some of Rosa Parks’ best quotes?

Throughout her many years of activism, Rosa Parks offered countless words of wisdom that resonate to this day. Here are five of her most powerful quotes:

“The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. They placed me under arrest. And I wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why I wasn’t, but I didn’t feel afraid. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama.”

This quote comes from a 1956 radio interview with Rosa Parks, which is one of the earliest interviews she gave. Democracy Now uploaded the audio, as well as a transcript. In this quote, Parks recalls her protest and her lack of fear despite being arrested. The phrase “even in Montgomery, Alabama” is especially striking as it shows the severity of racism and discrimination in that era.

“As I look back on those days, it’s just like a dream. The only thing that bothered me was that we waited so long to make this protest and to let it be known wherever we go that all of us should be free and equal and have all opportunities that others should have.” 

Found on Digital History, this quote comes from a 1995 interview with the iconic activist. In the interview, she reflected on her protest and arrest. When asked if she remembers feeling anger as she chose to not give up her bus seat, she recalls feeling determination, not anger. She wanted to take the opportunity to make it clear she was not going to be treated poorly and that people had endured such treatment for too long.

“I would like to be remembered as one who has always cared for people. I have more concern for people than material things. I have always wanted to help people.”

The Library of Congress has a collection of Rosa Parks’ papers, and among them is a 1975 interview with a college student. The interviewer asks Parks how she wants to be remembered. The activist gives a simple, but powerful answer consistent with the values Parks’ lived with her whole life. She was never someone who sought fame or attention. While her refusal to give up her bus seat is regarded as the spark for the Civil Rights Movement, she never used her position to gain more power. She just wanted to care for people.

“As long as people use tactics to oppress or restrict other people from being free, there is work to be done. Although we made many gains, racism is still alive.”

In 1994, Rosa Parks wrote a book with Gregory J. Reed called Quiet Strength. Published by Zondervan and reprinted as Reflections by Rosa Parks, it offers a series of reflections from the activist on topics like fear, injustice, faith and the future. The quote above, which is from the chapter on injustice, acknowledges the progress made, as well as the progress still needed to secure the freedom and equality of all. While Parks spoke of racism specifically, her remarks apply to all forms of oppression.

“It is better to teach – and live – equality and love than it is to teach hatred.”

In Reflections, Rosa Parks discusses her concern about racial violence and white supremacy on college campuses. However, she expresses hope and a belief that teaching and living out the values of equality and love is better than teaching hatred. She doesn’t want to dwell “on the horrors of the past.” That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want people learning about the past, of course; she encourages young people to learn their history. She wants people to focus on equality and love while doing so.

Interested in more quotes about activism, social justice and human rights? Check out this article.

What impact did Rosa Parks have on the world?

Rosa Parks has been called “the mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” While the fight against racial segregation had been building for years, her decision sparked a massive wave of activism and support not seen before. Her quiet defiance gave the movement something concrete to mobilize around. What was unique about her? Parks was always a humble woman, but Martin Luther King Jr. said it was because “her character was impeccable and her dedication deep-rooted.” Everyone respected her.

The success of the bus boycott turned the tide for Black people in America. President John F. Kennedy introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but was assassinated before it could be made a reality. His successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the bill into law. What did it achieve? It banned discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in public facilities, which ended the Jim Crow system. It also made discrimination in hiring practices illegal and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the law. The law wasn’t perfect, however. It didn’t address voting rights. In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march from Selma to Montgomery to draw attention to this error. They were met with fierce and often violent opposition, but the march successfully increased support for the Voting Rights Act. In August of that year, Johnson signed the act into law. Rosa Parks was among those at the event. What began as the simple act of refusing to give up her seat led to the end of legalized racial segregation and discrimination.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.