In 1955, Parks’ act of nonviolent civil disobedience sparked the 380-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and a mobilization of groups throughout the South to protest segregation, register blacks to vote and fight for political and civil rights. The boycott brought national attention to the movement and an unknown young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr.
    “Rosa Parks made a courageous decision and started the civil rights movement. Dr. King took it from there,” said Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, before her death.
    Most people don’t know it, but Parks wasn’t the first person arrested for violating bus- segregation ordinances in Montgomery, Alabama. Local civil-rights activists and church leaders chose her as a test case because of her impeccable reputation and respect in the black community.
    “For white culture, an African-American man protesting created fear,” Douglas Brinkley, her biographer, said last year. “This demure, dainty woman exposed the true ugliness of the Jim Crow South.”
    Rosa Louise McCauley was born on Feb. 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. She was the oldest child of Leona Edwards and James McCauley, a carpenter. Parks’ grandparents had been slaves. When slavery ended, her grandfather slept in a rocking chair with a shotgun on his knee, to defend against the Ku Klux Klan.
    Her parents separated when she was young, and Parks grew up with her mother, brother and maternal grandparents in rural Pine Level, Alabama.
    At age 11, Parks moved to Montgomery to live with her aunt and attend the private Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, cleaning classrooms in exchange for tuition. She dropped out of Booker T. Washington High School after her mother became ill, although she later earned a diploma and attended Alabama State Teachers’ College.
    She wed barber Raymond Parks in December 1932. The couple was respected in Montgomery’s black community. Parks attended the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was active in civil rights.
    She subtly protested the indignities of segregated water fountains and elevators and often walked home from work rather than ride the buses. She argued with bus drivers who insisted that blacks use the rear entrance. James F. Blake, the driver who evicted Parks from his bus in 1943, was the one who summoned authorities when she refused to give up her seat in 1955.
    “You died a little each time you found yourself face to face with this kind of discrimination,” she had said.
    The Montgomery city bus system required blacks — 75 percent of its riders — to enter the front of a bus to pay, then get off and re-board through the back door.
    The first four rows were always reserved for whites. Blacks could sit in the middle section, but if a white wanted one of the seats, black passengers were forced to vacate the entire row. Three women and two teenagers had already been arrested in 1955 for refusing to comply.
    Parks hadn’t planned to protest that day. She left her seamstress job on the evening of Dec. 1, 1955. Her back and shoulders ached and she hoped to get a seat. With the rear of the bus filled, Parks sat in the first row of the “colored section” with three other blacks. A white man boarded and Blake ordered them to move. All did except Parks, who refused with a simple “No.”
    “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn’t true,” Parks said in her 1992 autobiography. “… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
    Parks was taken to jail. On Dec. 5, 1955, her trial date, more than 7,000 blacks met at the Holt Street Baptist Church. They formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), with King, a 26-year-old Ph.D., as its head. For the next 13 months, virtually all blacks in Montgomery walked or carpooled, despite harassment by authorities. The bus service almost went bankrupt.
    Parks was convicted and fined $14, but she refused to pay. In February 1956, the MIA filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Parks and the three other women. The lower court declared segregated seating unconstitutional and ordered Montgomery buses integrated. The Supreme Court upheld the decision, outlawing segregation and discriminatory practices on city buses in December 1956.
    Parks, her husband and some family members lost their jobs and were constantly harassed and threatened. Raymond Parks had a nervous breakdown. They moved to Detroit, where Parks’ younger brother Sylvester lived. In 1965, U.S. Representative John Conyers hired Parks as a staff assistant. She worked in various administrative jobs for 23 years and retired in 1988 at age 75.
    In retirement, Parks continued to make public appearances and give speeches, including a rousing address at the Million Man March in Washington in 1995, when she was 83. She founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in 1987 to teach leadership skills to underprivileged teenagers.
    Parks received dozens of awards and honorary degrees. In 1980, she was the first woman to receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented her with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest civilian award.
    Time magazine named Parks one of the “100 most influential people of the 20th century.” The Henry Ford Museum in Michigan bought and exhibited the bus on which she was arrested. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum opened in Montgomery in 2000.
    Parks sued the rap duo OutKast in 1999 over the song “Rosa Parks,” which she claimed wrongly exploited her name. In August 2004, Parks sued OutKast’s record companies and two booksellers, seeking more than $5 billion, AP has reported.
    Parks rarely appeared in public since canceling a meeting with President George W. Bush in 2001, AP has reported. A federal judge in October 2004 appointed former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer to serve as guardian to Parks, about a month after her doctor said she was suffering from dementia.
    Raymond Parks died in 1977. The couple had no children.
     This article was reprinted with permission by