Rosa Parks receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton in 1996

Unlikely Activist for Civil Rights

Rosa Parks was a mild-mannered but determined woman who, with a single act of civil disobedience, set in motion a mass movement against racial segregation in the U.S. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to comply with a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested for her refusal and placed in jail.

Her actions triggered the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott, a 382 day effort which caused public buses to run without passengers and plunged the transit company towards financial ruin. The movement drew national attention and helped launch the public careers of both Reverend Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King.

Even though segregationists reacted with acts of terror including the bombing and torching of black churches, the movement held fast. In her autobiography, Rosa Parks said: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in”. In 1996, Rosa Parks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton and in 1997 she was awarded Congress’ highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

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