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May 24 2020 9

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks “The First Lady of Civil Rights”

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an American female activist famous for initiating the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. She is referred to as “the first lady of civil rights,” and “the mother of the freedom movement” due to her active role in advocating for the rights of the black people in the US.

Louise was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She was named Rosa Louise McCauley by her mother, Leona, who was a teacher, and her father, James McCauley, a carpenter. She was born to an African-American family, but some of her great-grandparents had Scots-Irish and Native American roots. She moved to Pine Level with her mother after her parents divorced. She was raised on her maternal grandparent’s farm along with her brother Sylvester. She attended the  African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), a church founded by free blacks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the 19th century. She took academic and vocational courses at the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery and later went to Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes for her secondary education. She, however, had to leave school to take care of her grandmother and mother, who became ill.

Around that time, black voters and many poor white voters in Alabama were disenfranchised by new constitutions and electoral laws put in place by the former Confederate states. There was widespread racial segregation in public facilities and retail stores. Public transport, including trains and buses, had formed seating policies that had different sections set aside for whites and others for the blacks. The policies also affected the school buses, which were only available for white children. The black children also received insufficient funds for their education.

Louise was married in 1932 to Raymond Parks, who was a Montgomery berber. Raymond was also a member of the NAACP, a movement that was collecting money in support of the defense of the Scottsboro Boys. The group was made of black men who had been falsely accused of raping two white women. Raymond urged Louise to complete her high school studies, which she did in 1933. In December 1943, Louise joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, where she became more active and was later elected secretary. On December 1, 1955, Louise’s activism went a notch higher when she declined an order from bus driver James F. Blake to vacate her seat for white passengers. This was after the section set aside for whites had been filled up, and there were white passengers in need of a seat. Other blacks in the black-section followed the order and gave up their seats, but Louise declined. Though she was not the first person to decline such an order, the NAACP decided to use her case to challenge the segregation of seats on the buses. Her act of defiance led to the famous Montgomery bus boycott, a 13-month boycott of city buses, and one of the longest mass mobilisations done by a black population ever in the country. It became an important symbol of the movement, and she took an active role in fighting racial segregation. She collaborated with other active civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP. Her active role in fighting for the rights of the minority led to her being fired from her job as a seamstress in a local department store. She also received many death threats. 

Shortly after the boycott incident, she moved to Detroit and found work as a secretary and receptionist to John Conyers, an African-American US Representative. She also continued with her activism role and was an active member of the Black Power movement, which supported political prisoners in the United States. After her retirement, Louise continued to advocate for the struggle for justice. She suffered from dementia and died in 2005. Louise received national recognitions, which include the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She also became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Her act of defiance on December 1, 1955, led to the celebration of Rosa Parks Day, which is done every year to commemorate the occasion.

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