Rosa Parks Day
Also known as
Day of Courage
National Day of Courage
California State Legislature in 2000
Rosa Parks Day celebrates the legacy of Rosa Parks, a woman who is a symbol of equality, civil rights, and the American Civil Rights Movement. The holiday is celebrated on either February 4, her birthday, or on December 1, the anniversary of the date in 1955 on which she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Various states officially observe the holiday on one of the two dates. Some municipalities officially mark the day as well. The holiday can also be observed unofficially on either date by all who wish to do so. Beyond remembering the legacy of Rosa Parks, the day promotes civil rights and equal opportunities in the present day. Events and activities are often organized by church leaders, politicians, and leaders of organizations. In classrooms, the holiday is marked with activities focused on Rosa Parks and her fight against discrimination and for equality.
Some states mark the holiday on February 4, on Rosa Parks's birthday. The California State Legislature designated the day in 2000, and it was first celebrated on Friday, February 4, 2000. In subsequent years, the holiday has been observed on the first Monday following February 4. In Missouri, the General Assembly set the day aside in 2006, and it was first observed the following year. Illinois first observed it in 2019, after the passing of a Senate Resolution. In Michigan, the Legislature designated the day in 1997 with the passage of Act 28. It is observed on the first Monday after February 4 and was first observed in 1998.
In other states, the holiday is officially marked on December 1, the anniversary of the date when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Ohio was the first state to observe the holiday on this date. Joyce Beatty, who was a state representative at the time, wrote legislation for it and advocated for its passage. Ohio House Bill 421 went into effect on April 14, 2006, and the holiday was first marked on December 1 of that year. The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) marks the day each year. A Statewide Tribute to Rosa Parks is held each year near the date. In the past, it has been hosted by the Ohio State University and COTA.
More states mark the day on December 1. In 2014, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber declared the first Rosa Parks Day in that state. Alabama held its first Rosa Parks Day in 2018 after it was designated by the Alabama Legislature. Commemorations are held, and counties and municipalities observe the day, although state offices are still open. Tennessee marked its first Rosa Parks Day in 2019, after the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation, with the backing of State Senator Raumesh Akbari and House Minority Leader Karen Camper. The day has been used to honor women all around the world for their impact, and events have been held at the National Civil Rights Museum.
Rosa Parks was born as Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. At the age of two, her family moved in with her grandparents, former slaves who had a passion for racial equality. Rosa experienced discrimination at a young age. For example, she attended a segregated school that lacked resources. As a young woman, Rosa became a seamstress in a shirt factory. In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, a barber and a member of the NAACP.
Rosa Parks didn't become a civil rights icon until the mid-1950s, but she was involved in the struggle for justice long before that. After joining the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, she became its secretary, a position she held until 1957. She was also the youth leader of the chapter and was also assigned by the NAACP to investigate cases of sexual assault.
The 1955 Montgomery City Code said that bus operators should provide "equal but separate accommodations" for black and white riders, a practice with a legal basis rooted in the 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson. The code said that bus drivers were to separate black and white people riding the same buses and that they "shall have the powers of a police officer" to carry out the segregation. In practice, it meant that blacks were told to go to the back of the bus. Blacks would get on at the front of the bus and pay, then get off and board again at the back in order to take a seat. When buses would fill up, drivers would often move back the sign that separated the races. If a black passenger wouldn't move when told to, a bus driver had the authority to refuse them service and could call the police to have them removed.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was riding a Montgomery bus home from her department store job, where she worked as a seamstress. She was seated in the front row designated for black people, and when some white passengers boarded the bus and had to stand, the bus driver, James F. Blake, moved back by a row the sign that separated the races and told four black riders in the row to move back. Three complied, but Rosa Parks would not. Blake called the police and Parks was arrested. She had violated Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Montgomery City Code.
Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott—which protested the segregation of public transit in the city—and really, the modern Civil Rights Movement. On the morning of December 5, leaders in the African American community came together at Mt. Zion Church to discuss a plan. They decided they needed strong leadership, formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), and elected Martin Luther King, Jr., the new minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, to lead it.
It was also on December 5 that Rosa Parks went to court, where 500 supporters greeted her as she arrived. She was found guilty of disorderly conduct and ordered to pay a $10 fine plus a court cost of $4. She appealed the case, challenging the legality of segregation. African Americans were asked to stay off the buses on the day of Parks's trial, in order to protest the arrest. They were encouraged to stay home from work or school, to carpool, to take a cab, or to walk. After its initial success, organizers thought a longer boycott could be possible. About 40,000 African Americans were commuters in the city, and they continued to stay off the buses.
After a few months, the transit company was taking a hit financially, as so many buses were sitting idle. Pushback came from segregationists. King's home was bombed, black churches were burned, the insurance was canceled on the cab company that was used by African Americans, and African Americans were arrested for violating old laws prohibiting boycotts.
The black legal team that appealed the case used the precedent of Brown v. Board of Education, which had struck down the notion of "separate but equal" in schools, and applied it to public transit. Parks's case went to state court, but it was another case—which included other black women who had refused to give up their seats on buses on other occasions—which went to federal court, to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern (Montgomery) Division. Fred Gray, who also was Parks's attorney, filed the suit. In June 1956, the racial segregation laws in public transit were ruled unconstitutional in Browder v. Gayle. The city of Montgomery appealed, but on November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision, ruling segregation on public transit to be unconstitutional. Montgomery stopped enforcing segregation, and the boycott ended 381 days after it started, on December 20, 1956.
Rosa Parks continued to fight for civil rights for the rest of her life. Following the court case, she lost her department store job, and her husband was fired as well. They moved to Detroit with Parks's mother. Parks then gained employment as a receptionist and secretary in Representative John Conyers' office. She also became a board member of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In 1987, Rosa Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development with her friend Elaine Eason Steele. The organization puts together "Pathways to Freedom" bus tours, where civil rights sites across the country are shown to young people. The NAACP presented Parks with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award and the Spingarn Medal. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Parks published an autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, in 1992, and also published a memoir that focused on her religious faith, titled Quiet Strength.
Rosa Parks died at the age of 92, on October 25, 2005, in her apartment in Detroit, Michigan, after suffering from dementia for a few years. She became the first woman to lie in state at the US Capitol Rotunda, and as of 2020, the only. It is believed 50,000 mourners came to view her casket. She was interred in the mausoleum inside of the chapel at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit. The chapel is now named Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel.
How to Observe
There are many ways that the legacy of Rosa Parks can be honored and celebrated, and ways civil rights and equal opportunities can be promoted. Here are a few ideas:
- Check to see if any official celebrations are taking place in your state or city today, or check to see if any events are being organized by church leaders, politicians, or other organizations.
- Take inspiration from Rosa Parks's fight for human rights, and become involved in your community, finding ways to promote civil rights and equal opportunities for all.
- If you are a teacher, focus activities or a lesson on Rosa Parks.
- Read Reflections by Rosa Parks, Quiet Strength, Rosa Parks: My Story, The Thunder of Angels, or Daybreak of Freedom.
- Watch Boycott, The Rosa Parks Story, or episode one of Eyes on the Prize, which focuses on the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
- Visit the National Women's History Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, or the Rosa Parks Museum, which is located at the site where Parks was arrested.
- View the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, which is located at The Henry Ford. If you are celebrating the February holiday, see if a National Day of Courage event is being held at the museum.
- Visit the grave of Rosa Parks.
- View the Rosa Parks statues in Montgomery or Washington, D.C..