Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks became a potent symbol of nonviolent resistance in the early stages of the civil rights movement when she refused to relinquish her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.

Parks, a Black seamstress who had just finished a long shift, was arrested for violating a provision of the Montgomery city code that made it illegal for a passenger to refuse “to take a seat among those assigned to the race to which he belongs.” Parks would later recall that when she was being arrested, she knew “it was the very last time that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind.”

She was right.

Four days after Parks’s arrest, the Montgomery bus boycott began. While a legal challenge to bus segregation laws wound its way through federal court, Martin Luther King Jr. led a massive campaign to bypass the city’s public transportation.

The effort culminated in one of the greatest victories of the civil rights era when the Supreme Court affirmed that racial segregation of the bus system was unconstitutional, a ruling that came about a year after Parks’s refusal to surrender her seat. 

When she died in 2005 at the age of 92, the diminutive Parks was recalled in obituaries as “timid and shy” but possessed of “the courage of a lion.”

— John Kruzel

photo: Getty Images