Born February 4, 1913, Rosa Parks would have been 100 years old this year. A statue of Parks was recently unveiled in the U.S. Congress, the first black woman to be so honored.
A in a new book titled The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, historian Jeanne Theoharis describes the long record of activism by this civil rights icon. As Theoharis recently told Democracy Now, “Here we have, in many ways, one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, and yet treated just like a sort of children’s book hero…. We diminish her legacy by making it about a single day, a single act, as opposed to the rich and lifelong history of resistance that was actually who Rosa Parks was.”
Few know that Parks’s grandfather was a follower of Marcus Garvey, the famous black nationalist. Her husband, Raymond Parks, protested the charges against the Scottsboro boys, nine young black men accused of raping two white women in the 1930s. In 1943, more than a decade before being arrested on a bus, Rosa Parks went to work for the NAACP. For a period she worked with the Montgomery chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. She attended a workshop at the Highlander Folk School, where many civil rights leaders received their training in nonviolence. Shortly after, on December 1, 1955, she was arrested in Montgomery for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.
After “taking a stand by sitting down,” Parks maintained her activism. In 1957, she moved to Detroit and became involved in issues of housing, jobs, and police brutality. She worked on the campaign of John Conyers, African American U.S. Representative from Michigan.
Parks was one of the earliest civil rights activists to oppose the war in Vietnam. She supported campaigns to free black political prisoners the Wilmington 10, Joan Little, and Angela Davis. In 1972, she attended the important National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. Even into the 1980s, Parks picketed against South African apartheid.