Rosa Parks’ Birthday is February 4th

Rosa Parks was a national figure known for her bravery in refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Her resistance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and led to nationwide efforts to end racial segregation.  She is often regarded as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” and has earned this title through her courageous act and contributions to black equality. In honor of Rosa Parks’s birthday, here are 5 facts about the civil rights icon!

1. Parks wasn’t the first African American woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

Nine months before Parks, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was the first Montgomery bus passenger to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger. Before her, Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith, and Susie McDonald had all challenged bus segregation laws in Alabama. Rosa was an activist before the bus boycotts and was involved in raising defense funds for Colvin. 

2. She Was a Sexual Assault Investigator for the NAACP

More than a decade before Rosa Parks became the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” she was a sexual assault investigator for the NAACP. In the 1940s, Parks joined the NAACP and was elected secretary of its Montgomery branch, traveling through Alabama and interviewing victims of discrimination and investigating sexual violence against women. She was propelled by her own experience with sexual assault in 1931 when a white male neighbor attempted to rape her. Parks resisted and later said of the incident, “I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never.” That encounter fueled her as she provided legal aid to Recy Taylor, the victim of a brutal gang rape by seven white men in Abbeville, Alabama. In 1944 Parks went to Taylor’s home to interview her. While there, the town’s Sheriff burst into Taylor’s house and demanded that Parks leave, and threatened to arrest both women. When Parks returned to Montgomery, she launched the Committee for Equal Justice for the Rights of Mrs. Recy Taylor. The committee made sure the case received national attention and by October, it was headline news.

3. She had a previous run-in with the bus driver James Blake, 12 years before she refused to leave her seat.

Rosa Parks riding on newly integrated bus following Supreme Court ruling ending segregation of Montgomery buses. (Photo by Don Cravens/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in 1955, it wasn’t the first time she’d faced off with bus driver James Blake. In 1943, Blake had her ejected from his bus after she resisted the rule for Black people to re-enter through the back door after paying bus fare at the front. “After that, I made a point of looking at who was driving the bus before I got on. I didn’t want any more run-ins with that mean one.” Parks said in her biography. She also said that if she had been paying attention that fateful day in 1955 she “wouldn’t even have gotten on that bus.”

4. She served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The struggle goes on. Rosa Parks in her seventies. (© UPI/Bettman)

 After the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Parks and her husband lost their jobs and received endless phone calls and death threats, so they packed up everything and moved to Detroit.  Once in Detroit, Parks worked as a secretary for US Representative John Conyers’ congressional office and served on the board of Planned Parenthood. 

5. She’s the first Black woman to have a full-length statue in the U.S. Capitol

Statue of Rosa Parks in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

In 2013, President Obama unveiled the Rosa Parks statue to honor her contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. “We do well by placing a statue of her here,” Obama said, “but we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.” In addition to it being the first full-length statue of an African American person in the U.S. Capitol, it was also the first statue commissioned by Congress since 1873. More than 50 of Parks’ relatives were present for the unveiling ceremony.