31 January 2023

Rosa Parks, second half of her amazing life.

Black American woman Rosa McCauley (1913-2005) grew up in the segreg­ated South. She was often con­fronted with racial discrimination and violence, co-existing with white peop­le in a city gov­ern­ed by Jim Crow seg­re­gation laws that started with Reconstruction in 1877.

Poster celebrating Martin Luther King Day

In 1932, at 19, she married Raymond Parks, an older man involved in fighting against racial injust­ice as a member of the National Assoc­iation for Advancement of Coloured People/NAACP. Event­ual­ly Rosa was elected secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chap­t­er, serving in that role for years. Rosa also worked cl­osely with the president of the local branch of NAACP Edgar Nixon, the advocate for black votes.

In Dec 1955, a white man had no bus seat because all the seats in the designated White Section were taken. When Parks remained in her Black seat, two police officers approached the stopped bus, assessed the sit­uat­ion, arrested Rosa and locked her up.

Edgar Nixon was there when Parks was bailed. Nixon had long­ hoped to find a black person of great integ­rity to become the plaintiff in a test case regarding segregation laws. Plus anoth­er idea: Mont­gom­ery’s blacks would boycott the buses on the day of Parks’ trial, 5th Dec. Mon­tgomery's Bus Boycott became an important social movement, begun by local Baptist Church pastor Rev Mar­tin Luther King because the Negroes-In-Back policy was so demean­ing.

The boycott hurt the bus company more than expected. It lasted a year and ended only when the USA Su­preme Court up­held a lower court, declaring Montgom­ery’s segregated seating unconstitut­ion­al.

Memorial plaque in Montgomery, on the site of Rosa's bus stop

Fired from her job a month into the boycott, Parks spent most of 1956 travelling across the country, raising awareness and funds for the movement. She met Thurgood Marshall, visited the Statue of Liberty, did radio interviews and gave many spee­ch­es. Her efforts, with others in Montgomery, helped turn a local struggle into a national movement.

What was the rest of Rosa’s life like? The "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" lost her job for participating in the boycott and felt harassed. The boycott engendered ang­er and viol­ence in much of Montgomery’s white population; Nixon’s and Rev King’s homes were bombed. Thankfully Montgomery’s drama filled the national press. Post-boycott, Parks and family eventually mo­ved to Detroit in 1957. Her success in the south helped Detroit’s Civil Rights Move­ment.

She protested housing seg­r­eg­ation, participated in Detroit’s Great March for Freedom and att­ended the March on Washington in August 1963. The following year, Parks volunteered in John Conyers’ congressional campaign for Michigan’s first district on a platform of Jobs, Jus­tice, Peace. After he was elected to Congress, Conyers hired her for his Detroit office, a city she found to be plagued with racial and social inequity. Her work with constituents in Rep. Conyers’ office made her keenly aware of poverty, job discrimination, access to health care, housing segregation, school inequality and police brutality. She worked on prisoner support, helped run the Detroit chapter of the Friends of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and part­ic­ipated in the growing movement against U.S  involvement in Viet­nam.

Rosa Parks (L), Dr & Mrs Abernathy, Dr Ralph Bunche, Dr & Mrs Martin Luther King, Jr.
leading marchers into Montgomery, 1965.

By 1980 the widowed Parks suffered from fin­an­cial and health tr­oub­les; luckily local community members and churches came to­gether to support the heroine. She remained active in the NAACP & the Southern Christian Lead­ership Conference, and travelled in support of civil-rights causes.

In 1999, the U.S Congress honoured her with a Congress­ion­al Gold Medal for Civilians.

Days after Rosa’s death in 2005, all the city buses in Mon­t­gomery and Detroit reserved their front seats with black ribbons. Her body was flown back to Montgomery and taken to St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. She lay at rest there overnight when a memor­ial service was held in her honour, given by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

On the day of Rosa’s funeral procession, President Bush ordered all flags in the Nation’s Capitol and all U.S public areas, to be flown at half-mast. By allowing her body to rest in so many pre­stigious places, many people could pay their respects to this woman who had done so much to change the nation’s future. In Wash­ington D.C, a bus like the one she made her famous stand in transported her to the U.S Capitol Rot­un­da. There she was viewed by 50,000+ people. Af­t­er the memorial service in Washington D.C, she was taken back to Detroit to the Charles Wright Museum of African American Hist­ory and lay in repose for two days.

Thousands of Americans gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington to pay tribute to Rosa

Then a funeral service was held for Rosa at the Greater Grace Tem­p­le Church in Detroit. An honour guard from the Michigan National Guard laid a flag over the casket before it was transported in a long pro­cession where thousands of people stood and released white balloons.

Authorised by the Congress in 2005, the Statue of Rosa Parks was his­torically significant as being the first full-length statue of an African American person in the U.S Capitol, the first statue comm­issioned by the Congress since 1873.

Statue marked “Rosa Parks/1913–2005”
in National Statuary Hall in the U.S Capitol.
Granite pedestal, 9’ tall, bronze statue, 2013

In Sept 2014, the Library of Congress received a great loan of the Rosa Parks Collection, purchased by Howard Buffett. The collect­ion, in an auction house warehouse for years, now ensured the public would benefit from the historical record of Parks’ life. The leg­acy of resistance against racial injustice that she left was rich indeed.


roentare said...

Thank you for this article about this great woman who has the courage to stand up for her people. What a great story to read and learn about her legacy.

Student of History said...

The Library of Congress' Rosa Parks collection is very wise. Casual histories are excellent, but they can change over the years.

Hels said...


when I wrote "Rosa Parks heroic role model in the battle against racism" a couple of years ago, I focused on the events leading up to, and during the Montgomery Boycott of 1955-56. I assumed that was already a lifetime of commitment and energy expended by one human being.

So the post-boycott events came as an impressive surprise to me, especially once the family mo­ved to Detroit in 1957 and continued with the Civil Rights Move­ment. What a woman!

Hels said...


histories that were not contemporaneously published can change easily. Later historians and politicians can change the understanding of past events because times change and the writers are being as honest as they can be. Or they are being politically devious and are airbrushing out female, black or working class heroes, for example.

How amazing that the collect­ion, stored away in a warehouse for years, survived intact.

Fun60 said...

So much information here about her later life that I didn't realise.

Hels said...


we expect young people to be energetic, committed to progressive movements and risk takers. It was always thus, during the Spanish Civil War, the Vietnam War and the anti-Apartheid movements.

But we expect adults as they age to turn more to careers, family and other "respectable" activities. So when Rosa Parks turned her energies to civil rights, political prisoners and educational organisations in her 60s, 70s and on, it was amazing.

DUTA said...

Race/racial/racism - a never ending topic and unsolvable issue!
I remember reading an article on Climate Change and God's intention to reset the world through it. After reading I said something like: Oh, God,if You're going to reset the world, don't create races again, just plain people. We, humans cannot deal with the conflicts and hatred that are brought about by the existence of races.

Hels said...


I used to believe that after: slavery was banned in the US, witch women were no longer hanged in Protestant Europe, all women were given the vote in New Zealand and Australia, Congo civilians were mass murdered by the Belgian army, and Jews were massacred in Ukrainian pogroms... minorities would be facing less hatred and more equality in each generation by the early 20th century. Of course I knew it would be a very slow movement, with unequal progress across the world, but eventually most nations would protect all their citizens equally.

Now it seems unsolvable EVER, just as you noted :(

CherryPie said...

Rosa was an amazing activist and role model.

Hels said...


absolutely yes, a role model for all of us during her own lifetime and ever since.

I can only hope she felt the costs of her heroism were worthwhile - being sacked from her jobs, poverty, poor physical health and eventually dementia in old age.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa noite de quarta-feira minha querida amiga. Sempre aprendo com o seu maravilhoso trabalho e pesquisa.

My name is Erika. said...

This is a wonderful post and quite timely with the news about the latest police shooting in Memphis. Thanks for sharing Hels. hugs-Erika

Hels said...


I know there were/are brave people in many communities, but Rosa Parks was special in my life because those were the years (1955-65) I was learning all my political and moral values. She was a heroine for school children then.

Hels said...


the police murder in Memphis showed that nothing much has changed when it comes to protecting the rights of quiet citizens going about their business in public. I suppose Parks was fortunate in that she was only handcuffed, arrested and gaoled, not beaten or short to death.

Her extraordinary strength was that, instead of retiring into safe silence, she took on a lifetime mission that risked her life again and again. [I'm not a coward, but I would have gone into hiding, myself].