Tribute to Rosa "Lee" Louise Parks (1913-2005)

by Marsha Prescod

Rosa ParksRosa Parks (1913-2005) is famous for being the catalyst for a massive boycott in the southern US state of Alabama by African Americans, tired of a segregated public transport system. That boycott is seen as one of the key developments in the Civil Rights Movement.

Rosa Parks was the granddaughter of former slaves, and a seamstress by trade. On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, she was arrested. The reason was because of where she was sitting on the bus. African Americans were required to pay their fares at the front of the bus, and then get off, then get back on through the back door. The white bus drivers had police powers. If they drove away before African American passengers were able to get back on the bus, there was nothing those passengers could do. At peak hours, the drivers changed markers segregating the bus, making fewer for those in the "colored section" so that whites could be provided with seats.

Parks took her seat in the front of the "colored section" of a Montgomery bus. When the driver asked Parks and three other black riders to relinquish their seats to whites, Parks refused (the others complied). The driver called the police, and Parks was arrested. There is a famous picture of her in the police station holding a prison number. Later that night she was released, after friends stood bail for $100. Rosa Parks was active in Montgomery's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Rosa Parks on busShe had worked in a voter registration drive in Montgomery (attempts top get blacks registered to vote in the teeth of local state opposition). She was secretary of the Montgomery branch of the organization. So she was politically active and aware. Parks allowed the NAACP to take up her case and the Women's Political Council (WPC), thought up the idea of a one-day bus boycott. The WPC distributed more than 52,000 leaflets announcing the bus boycott. On December 5, Parks was taken to court, convicted and fined, and the boycott started. The Rev Martin Luther King Jnr had just moved to Montgomery as the new pastor, and had been elected president of an organization called the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Thanks to MIA and King’s involvement, the boycott, originally planned for one day, ran for 381 days and involved 42,000 black people who walked, carpooled, or took taxis, rather than ride the segregated city buses.

A Court case was filed by MIA challenging the segregated transport system and the Court declared segregated seating on buses unconstitutional, a decision later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was one of the first successful actions of the mass protest movement to challenge racial discrimination in 20th century America. Parks became widely known as "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," she remained a committed activist. In the 1980s she worked in support of the anti-apartheid movement for blacks in South Africa, and, in 1987, she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in Detroit, a career counseling center for black youth.

Rosa Parks StoryDVD: Rosa Parks Story (REGION 1) (NTSC) starring Angela Bassett (2003)





Obituary in Guardian by Sheila Rowbotham
Civil rights movement loses a heroine by Matilda MacAttram on Blink website

Add your personal tribute by writing to

"BHM & IWM are saddened to hear of the death of one of our international bright lights. Long may the legacy of her work continue to spread around the world." Mia Morris 25.10.05

"Sorry to have heard about Rosa. Pity she did not live to 100. She did, taking her history to the World." Bogle L'Ouverture

"Rosa Parks was inspirational because she was an ordinary black woman who was brave in the face of racism, bigotry and prejudice. She did what many wanted, but did not have the courage to do. She will always be a part of our history and I am delighted that we are celebrating her life and her achievement." Valerie Amos

Tributes from Interfaith Service

Big thank you for this opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for the life of Rosa Parks - Jean

Rosa you did so much for the WHOLE world rest in peace - Kapmayor

Thank you for organising this event to celebrate what we have gained from Rosa Parks. I hope this is the first of an annual event - Sonia

Thank for helping to pave for the pathway for us - Felicia

A beautiful and inspiring service - Richard

Thank you for creating and leading a wonderful service in honour of Rosa Parks - Stuart

A lovely service, I felt good sing those songs! - Jenny

Very nice, peaceful, uplifting and memorable - Rosemond

A wonderfully uplifting service - a great tribute to our sister Rosa Parks - Thank you - Heather

Inspiring! Uplifting! A wonderfully inclusive and moving ceremony! - Kunbi

What a grace, what a blessing, what a benediction Infinite Eternal Thank you - Cailean

Heartfelt inspring and informative service thanks Anita - Sister Pesa

Stunning celebration- felt to have been part of it - very inspiring! - Nabia

"Thankyou very much to Mia Morris and to you for giving me the opportunity of attending Rosa Parks Thanksgiving Service, it was a Lovely and Peaceful occasion. Anita McKenzie who conducted the service was really great.

As she was conducting the service she would inform those in attendance what procedures we would be involved in (if we wanted to participate) and she explained the reason why it is done. I found this to be a good thing as it made the service more memorable.

The Choir were really great as well and they also made the service more memorable especially with the songs they sung.

A Special Thankyou to Mia Morris for organising the Rosa Parks Thanksgiving Service. Everything about it was brilliant - the venue, the programme handout, the information about Rosa Parks on the screen behind the choir, the refreshments, the television in the foyer room showing different video clips and getting the opportunity to talk to Mia and Anita."

Rosemond - Home Office


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