Surprising Facts You Might Not Have Known About Rosa Parks

Have you heard about Rosa Louise McCauley Parks? The woman born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, would grow into a vitally part of American history. She lived until the age of 92 when she passed away in Detroit, Michigan, on October 24, 2005. There are many legendary stories of Parks’ activism, such as the one where she refused to get up from her seat on a bus during a period of oppressive racial segregation. But what if we told you that the way you heard her story wasn’t how it actually happened? Ahead, you’ll learn everything you never knew about the civil rights movement leader.

There Was A Black Woman Before Parks Who Refused To Give Up Her Seat

portrait
Dudley M. Brooks/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Dudley M. Brooks/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

Rosa Parks might be the one who receives all the clout and acknowledgment for refusing to give up her seat, but she wasn’t the first black woman to do it. Only nine months before Parks’ famous incident, a 15-year-old by the name of Claudette Colvin did the same.

Her actions resulted in arrest, and she would remain locked up for several hours before her minister paid the bail. Parks did have a hand in helping with Colvin’s defense.

Parks Didn’t Agree With MLK Jr.

mlk Jr
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. had a way of trying to combat the transgressions against black people in America. A non-violent approach is what he preached, but another prominent figure, Malcolm X, didn’t like that method. Rosa Parks also didn’t agree with how King wanted things done.

Parks and her husband moved to Hampton, Virginia, due to constant death threats and because of King’s civil rights actions. She thought civil disobedience had a cap, so she turned to Malcolm, thanks to his “by any means necessary” mantra.

No, Her Feet Weren’t Tired

sitting rosa parks
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

The saying goes that Rosa Parks didn’t move from her seat because her feet were tired, but that wasn’t the case at all. Parks wasn’t physically tired, she was “tired of giving in,” according to her autobiography.

Also, even with being an activist, she didn’t premeditate that move. It was when they told her to move that she decided to take a stance. They chose the wrong day to mess with Parks, as she was fed up.

Parks Wasn’t In A Whites-Only Section

mug shot
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Despite what many believe to be true, Parks didn’t take a seat in the whites-only area. She sat in the middle section of the bus, where African-Americans could take a load off if other seats for whites weren’t taken.

Since the private section filled up, the driver, James Blake, ordered Parks and three others to move. Out of the four, Parks was the only one who decided to stand (or sit) her ground.

That Wasn’t Her First Issue With James Blake

james blake
ghostinkyrie/Twitter
ghostinkyrie/Twitter

More than a decade before getting arrested for refusing to get out of her seat, Parks had an issue with the same bus driver, James Blake. It was 1943 and Parks declined to get off the bus she’d already gotten onto, only to have to reenter through the back door — a rule that Blake insisted she follow.

Once that day passed, she tried her hardest to avoid Blake, but fate led them to meet again in 1955 because she wasn’t paying attention. “I wouldn’t have gotten on that bus,” Parks wrote regarding being aware of who was driving the bus that day.

The Bus Arrest Was Only A Blip In Her Civil Rights Activities

smiling
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Parks and her husband, Raymond, were both civil rights activists way before people started to know who they were. Raymond’s diligence was how Parks ended up falling for him when they first met.

She said he was the “first real activist” she ever came across and became smitten with his refusal to get “intimidated by white people.” Parks became a member of the NAACP in 1943 and at the time of her arrest, she was a secretary at the local Montgomery chapter.

The NAACP Needed A Plaintiff

smiling and looking
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

During the Jim Crow era, the NAACP searched for a plaintiff to challenge the law. Parks was a member of the NAACP at the time and she knew they were on the hunt.

She had no intention of being included at all, but things don’t always turn out how you want. After her actions on the bus, she ended up becoming the plaintiff the NAACP needed. Honestly, who better to be in that position than her?

Board Member Of Planned Parenthood

Coretta Scott King
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Not only did Parks stand for civil rights, but she was an advocate for women’s rights as well! Fighting for both blacks and women, two of the most oppressed communities during that time, took the ultimate courage.

As her life passed, Parks became a member of the board of advocates for Planned Parenthood. She joined despite the malicious thoughts of founder Margaret Sanger. Sanger believed that some races were inferior to others, and you can guess which she meant.

Missouri Pulled A Fast One Over The KKK

Missouri
Bill Greenblatt/Getty Images
Bill Greenblatt/Getty Images

In 1994, the hate group called the Ku Klux Klan applied to adopt a portion of I-55 in Missouri. You can do this through the Adopt-A-Highway program so they went for it, and it also meant they would get a sign saying they maintained it.

At first, the government tried to refuse the request, but that ended up being unconstitutional. What happened next was defiance at its best. The Missouri legislature chose to name that strip of the highway Rosa Parks Highway instead. Checkmate.

The First To Be Represented In The National Statuary Hall

up close statue
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Rosa Parks is the first black woman to receive a statue in the National Statuary Hall. It happened in January of 2013, when Sen. Chuck Schumer made the exciting announcement.

For something so monumental, how would they choose portray the civil rights activist? Well, they went with an image of her waiting to be arrested. That event is something that lives on in history, so it was a superb choice for all the people to see whenever they visit.

Parks Was Also The First To Lie In State

rosa parks
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

After Parks passed away in 2005, she became the first woman to “lie in state.” They put her coffin on display in the Capitol Rotunda, a place usually reserved for lawmakers and presidents.

“This is a moment in time,” said Judy Rashid of Greensboro, N.C., the dean of students at North Carolina A&T. “I’m standing in this line in her memory and for my unborn grandchildren, hoping they can be strong and courageous like Rosa was.”

Earning A Congressional Gold Medal

smiling with medal
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

In 1999, Rosa Parks received the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest honor a civilian can earn. They recognized her as a “living icon of freedom in America,” a highly fitting title.

Here is a little excerpt from the speech: “Rosa Parks reminded us all that . . . for millions of Americans, our history was full of weary years, our sweet land of liberty bearing only bitter fruit and silent tears. In so many ways, Rosa Parks brought America home to our founders’ dream.”

Parks Inspired Nelson Mandela

rosa parks
David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Yes, Nelson Mandela is one of the most influential and inspiring figures to walk the Earth. Where does a man like that receive his inspiration? Well, her last name is Parks.

After serving his 27-year prison sentence, he told Parks something that we’re sure stuck with her until she passed. “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years,” Mandela told Parks. The anti-apartheid revolutionary and the civil rights activist had a lot in common.

Jailed Again Weeks After Arrest

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Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Parks was a busy woman with a lot to do, and that included serving on the executive board of directors of those organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She worked as a dispatcher for a short time, getting carpool rides together for those planning to boycott.

A grand jury decided to hand Parks, and others involved, indictments for violating the state law against organized boycotting. That was on February 21, 1956, and 114 others also were arrested.

Moving From Montgomery Wasn’t Just A Choice

rosa parks
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

We mentioned earlier that Parks moved away because of death threats and for not agreeing with King’s tactics, but there was more to it. After getting arrested for the boycott, she lost her job at a department store, despite her employers claiming that it wasn’t because of her activities.

Next, her husband quit his job because they told him he couldn’t talk about his wife in the workplace. Enough was enough, so they headed to Detroit.

50th Anniversary Special

rosa parks bus
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

On December 1, 2005, major cities across the nation such as New York, Washington, D.C., and many more stood together in solidarity. It was a special day, being the 50th anniversary of Parks’ arrest.

What these locations did was to symbolically leave the seats behind bus drivers empty. It was a way to commemorate Parks’ legacy as a civil rights activist and her act of civil disobedience. That’s a great way to pay respects to a pivotal figure in history.

Parks Was Very Low-Maintenance

with others getting a medal
Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images
Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

Despite her high public profile, Rosa Parks didn’t live her life like it. You would’ve never guessed she had multiple paid gigs because she kept things as simple as they could get.

Instead, she donated the funds she received from engagements to the poor and to various social service projects. She really wanted to uplift communities as best as she could, so this was only one way of her doing that while keeping things low maintenance.

Parks Was A Seamstress

parks smiling
Monica Morgan/WireImage
Monica Morgan/WireImage

With all that Parks had going on, she still needed to hold down some type of trade to bring in money. The paid engagements went to charities and it was already tough enough to find work as a woman, let alone a black one.

On the side, Parks worked as a seamstress because her elevated civil rights status made it extremely difficult for her to find other work. Parks found a way to make ends meet.

She Had A Narrow Focus

rosa parks
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

It’s true that Rosa Parks helped out and did many important things, but there was one thing specifically that had her focus. Parks had a dedication to fighting violence against women.

As one might imagine, the number of crimes against women was rather high during this time, so Parks desperately wanted that to change. She recorded and investigated crimes of violence against women as a secretary for the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP.

What She Wanted Her Legacy To Be

rosa parks
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

As the decades pass and new leaders come into this world, do they ever stop and think; “what will my legacy be?” Well, Rosa Parks did and she wanted hers to be something that that would help the greater good.

“I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people,” Parks said. We can’t say that’s come to fruition entirely yet, but she definitely left a lasting mark that will continue to help for decades to come.