UPDATED: 8:15 a.m. ET, Feb. 4, 2022 —
Originally published: Dec. 1, 2017
While our elders like Rosa Parks deserve our love and admiration every day all day, it’s probably
Rosa Parks, who is befittingly called the “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement” for sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, would have celebrated her 109th birthday on Friday.
Born Rosa Louise McCauley on Feb. 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, the legendary civil rights icon who was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give her seat up to a white woman on a public bus remains a strong symbol of resilience and resistance in the face of racism.
It seems almost karmic that Parks’ birthday month coincides with Black History Month.
Parks’ signature move, simple in delivery but stellar in impact, represented a refusal to relinquish her seat to a white passenger when bus driver James F. Blake demanded that she do so in Montgomery, Alabama, on Dec. 1, 1955. Blacks were known as colored, and inferiority was the superior thought about African Americans at the time of Parks’ burgeoning resistance. She, like so many Black people, was tired of being resigned to second-class status because of racism.
On that day, Parks’ resistance was right. Yet, the courageous woman, 42, was arrested and briefly locked up, handcuffed by the stigmatization of segregation.
Parks’ revolution was racialized and publicized. Threats and caveats alike were thrown her way, but proved futile.
The activist summed up her feelings about that heavily documented day in her “Rosa Parks: My Story” autobiography in 1992: “I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Parks, the secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter at the time, was not the first woman to refuse to vacate her seat. Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith and other women were arrested for their resistance of the segregated bus system. A small boycott snowballed into a major boycott that lasted more than 300 days, starving revenue for the Alabama buses operations.
Colvin, Parks and the other female protesters, along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in solidarity with one another, supported a major legal case, Browder V. Gayle, that caused a reversal in course pertaining to bus segregation in 1956. Black folks won the agency to sit in whatever seats they wanted, a right that should have been there’s from the start.
Parks, who died in 2005 at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan, will forever be remembered for her role in the revolution in Montgomery.
African Americans, including Barack Obama, have admired the intrepid Parks.
Bus seats are still posthumously reserved for the activist even to this day.