Rosa Louise McCauley (born February 4, 1913), best known by her married name Rosa Parks, is a retired seamstress who is noted as being a very important American civil rights movement activist.
She was born in Tuskegee, Alabama and is most famous for her December 1, 1955 arrest for refusing a bus driver's order to give up her seat to a white man and stand in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for disorderly conduct, and on appeal, the case ultimately resulted in the 1956 United States Supreme Court ruling that segregated bus service was unconstitutional. Her arrest was used by Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead the successful year-long Montgomery bus boycott and to help mount other protests against laws requiring racial segregation.
Although she is known for refusing to give up her bus seat, she was not the first to do so. Indeed, the NAACP had accepted and litigated other cases before, such as that of Irene Morgan, ten years earlier, which resulted in a victory in the Supreme Court on Commerce Clause grounds. That victory only overturned State segregation laws as applied to actual travel in interstate commerce, e.g. interstate bus travel. The Rosa Parks case is considered the landmark because it applied to all segregationist laws, not just those affecting interstate commerce.
The NAACP had additionally considered but rejected some earlier protesters deemed unable or unsuitable to withstand the pressure of a legal challenge to segregation laws (See Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith). The selection of her for a test case supported by the NAACP has been speculated to be in part because she was employed by the NAACP.
She served on the staff of U. S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) from 1965-1988.
After a lifetime of activity fighting racism, Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. (Other protesters did not receive this medal).
The Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, was dedicated in November 2001. It tells the story of the events leading up to her historic act of civil disobedience, and how her simple act connects to the larger tapestry of the civil rights movement.