Rosa Parks Day

Rosa Parks Day

Date Observed: December 1
Location: Communities nationwide

Rosa Parks Day on December 1 has been observed statewide in Michigan and Ohio and in various communities across the United States. It is a day to commemorate December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks, an African-American civil rights activist, refused an order to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger, sparking a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.

Historical Background

Rosa Parks was born in 1913 to James McCauley, a carpenter, and Leona McCauley, a teacher. At the time Rosa was born, the family, which eventually included a younger brother, Sylvester, lived in Tuskegee, Alabama. They moved to Pine Level, Alabama, to live on a farm with her mother's parents so that Leona McCauley could go back to teaching school in Spring Hill, about eight miles away. James McCauley went north to work, and seldom communicated with his family.

Young Rosa was taught to read at home. Her formal education began when she was six years old in a one-room elementary school, all that was available for blacks in Pine Level. When she was 11 years old, her mother enrolled her in the Montgomery (Alabama) Industrial School for Girls, founded by northern white women who believed black girls should be educated. She completed the 8th grade before the school closed; the aging founders and teachers were unable to continue their work. Rosa received two years of high school education at a laboratory school at Alabama State Teachers' College for Negroes. She dropped out at the beginning of the 11th grade to care for her ill grandmother.

Her grandmother died within a month, and Rosa returned to Montgomery, where she got a job in a shirt factory and went back to school for a short time. She met Raymond Parks when she was in her late teenage years, and the two married in 1932. Both were active members of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Rosa Parks was secretary of the NAACP chapter from 1943 to 1956 and was involved in voter-registration drives.

In her autobiography, Rosa Parks describes the numerous cases of verbal and physical harassment and discrimination against blacks during the years following World War II. She was especially incensed that when black veterans, her brother Sylvester among them, came back to the South they were not allowed to vote. Her brother left and moved to Detroit, Michigan.

But lack of enfranchisement was not the only problem. Attacks on African Americans increased. She recalled in her autobiography: "I remember 1949 as a very bad year. Things happened that most people never heard about, because they never were reported in the newspapers. At times I felt overwhelmed by all the violence and hatred, but there was nothing to do but keep going."

The Bus Boycott

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks had just left her job and was distracted thinking about her efforts to set up a NAACP workshop. When she boarded a bus, she did not realize the driver was the same person who had evicted her from a bus years earlier. "Most of the time if I saw him on the bus I didn't get on it," she wrote.

She sat down on one of the middle seats of the bus, and when numerous white passengers got on at one of the stops, the driver ordered her to get up and let a white man have her seat. She refused to move, and reported, "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. . . .No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." She had had enough of the denigrating treatment and the daily indignities imposed by white society.

Rosa Parks was forcefully removed from the bus and arrested. She was released on bail. That was the beginning of a series of actions to challenge segregation on public transportation. As part of that effort, African-American leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., organized a boycott of city buses that lasted for more than a year (see also Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday). Parks lost her job because of the boycott, as did many other blacks who supported the cause.

Meantime, lawsuits against segregation were filed, and in 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional in Montgomery and elsewhere in the South. After that decision, Rosa and Raymond Parks received death threats and could not find jobs, so they, and Rosa's mother, moved to Detroit, Michigan.

Later Life and Honors

In 1965 Rosa Parks went to work for U.S. Representative John Conyers Jr. in his Detroit office, where she was a staff member for 20 years. Rosa Parks continued her activism as well. After her husband died in 1977, she and a friend established the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, focusing on human rights. She received numerous honors and awards for her efforts toward social justice. In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the highest civilian award in the United States.

After her death on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92, Rosa Parks's body was transported to the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building for a public ceremony. She was the first woman whose body laid in honor in the rotunda. Thousands attended her funeral in Detroit, Michigan, and paid tribute to her.

On December 1, 2005, President George W. Bush signed legislation directing that a statue of Rosa Parks be created and placed in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building.

Creation of the Observance

Not long after Rosa Parks's death, the states of Michigan and Ohio marked December 1, 2005, as Rosa Parks Day, and began attempts to make the day an annual observance. In New York City representatives of numerous activist groups declared December 1, 2005, as a Rosa Parks Anniversary Nationwide Day of Absence Against Poverty, Racism and War. The Day was supported by more than 1,000 local and national civil rights and antiwar organizations, such as chapters of the NAACP, the Troops Out Now Coalition, Teamsters National Black Caucus, and many others.


Observing Rosa Parks Day takes many forms. Across the United States, transit agencies honored the civil rights champion by reserving a front seat in Parks's name on public buses. The American Public Transportation Association and more than 50 transit agencies around the nation took part. Interior bus cards also focused on Parks and her contributions.

Those organizing around the Rosa Parks Nationwide Day of Absence held marches to protest racism and war and to demand action to alleviate poverty. Activists called for students, educators, civic organizations, labor unions, clergy, professionals, and others to take a day off from school, work, and shopping and to participate in teach-ins on civil rights and anti-war movements. They also held peace vigils.

Schools and libraries observed the day with a variety of activities, such as reenactments of Rosa Parks's refusal to leave her seat on the bus, showings of the film The Rosa Parks Story (2002), and readings from her autobiography. On December 1, 2005, the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute in Detroit began a 381-day commemoration with various educational programs and activities to recognize the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks's arrest and the duration of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Contacts and Web Sites

American Public Transportation Association 1666 K St., N.W. Washington, DC 20006 202-496-4816; fax: 202-496-4321

Rosa Parks Day Memorial Committee 39 W. 14th St., #206 New York, NY 10011 212-633-6646

Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute of Self-Development 65 Cadillac Sq., Ste. 2200 Detroit, MI 48226 313-965-0606

Further Reading

Brinkley, Douglas G. Rosa Parks. New York: Viking Penguin, 2000. Hill, Ruth Edmonds. "Rosa Parks." In Black Heroes, edited by Jessie Carney Smith. Foreword by Nikki Giovanni. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press, 2001. Hine, Darlene Clark. "Parks, Rosa." In African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Writing by Rosa Parks

With Jim Haskins. Rosa Parks: My Story. New York: Puffin Books, 1992.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
References in periodicals archive ?
California and Missouri California and Missouri commemorate Rosa Parks Day on her birthday, February 4, whilst Ohio and Oregon commemorate Rosa Parks Day on the day that she was arrested, December 1.
A.10026 TOWNS Establishes February fourth of each year as a day of commemoration known as "Rosa Parks Day".
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