Parks, Rosa (Lee McCauley)(1913– ) civil rights activist; born in Tuskagee, Ala. After briefly attending Alabama State University, she married and settled in Montgomery, Ala., where by 1955 she was working as a tailor's assistant in a department store. Contrary to most early portrayals of her as merely a poor, tired seamstress, who on the spur of the moment refused to surrender her seat in a bus to a white passenger, she had long been a community activist—she had served as secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and she had worked for the Union of Sleeping Car Porters. She had also been involved in previous incidents when refusing to leave a bus seat. By forcing the police to remove, arrest, and imprison her on this occasion, and then agreeing to become a test case of segregation ordinances, she played a deliberate role in instigating the Montgomery bus boycott (1955–56). She was fired from her job at the department store and in 1957 she became a youth worker in Detroit, Mich. As she eventually earned recognition as the "midwife" or "mother" of the civil rights revolution, she became a sought-after speaker nationally.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.