Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist who made history in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Parks grew up in the South when Jim Crow laws, which legalized racial segregation, were in full force. Black people were relegated to separate schools and had to drink from specified water fountains, use separate restrooms, and eat in segregated areas of restaurants. Public buses were segregated as well—with the back of buses designated for Black passengers, and the front of the bus reserved for white passengers. A witness to this type of racial discrimination and violence from a young age, Parks became an active member of the Civil Rights Movement, eventually becoming secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1943.
On December 1, 1955, Parks boarded a bus on the way home from her job as a seamstress. As the bus started to fill up, the driver asked Parks to get up and move to a different row of seats in the back in order to make room for more white passengers. She refused.
The driver demanded she stand up, but Parks sat firm and replied, "I don't think I should have to stand up." The driver then called the police and had her arrested—but her courageous act of resistance inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest social movements in history.
By midnight on the day of her arrest, 35,000 flyers were printed and sent home with Black children from school, informing their parents of the boycott. Montgomery’s Black community planned to boycott the bus system on the day of Parks’ trial, December 5, and encouraged citizens to stay home from work or school, take a cab, or walk to work.
The boycott gained momentum, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the leader of the movement, which lasted over a year until The Supreme Court’s 1956 ruling that bus segregation was unconstitutional, formally integrating public transportation. Parks lost her job and was fined for refusing to give up her seat, but became a nationally recognized symbol of strength in the process.
At the time, some accused Parks of not wanting to move simply because she was tired. Parks stood up for herself and shared her true intentions, saying: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
After the boycott and court ruling, Parks, her husband, and her mother moved to Detroit, Michigan. Parks became an administrative aide in Congressman John Conyers Jr.’s office in 1965 and served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In 1987, she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, an organization that seeks to teach young people about various civil rights and Underground Railroad sites across the country.
After her retirement in 1988, she wrote an autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story. In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 1999, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor a civilian can receive. On October 24, 2005, she died at 92 years old, becoming the first woman in history to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol.
During a ceremony at the Capitol, U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black said, “Her courageous spirit ignited a movement that challenged our conscience. By sitting down, this mother of the civil rights movement enabled millions to stand up.”
Read more: 33 Motivational Quotes from Female Leaders
19 best Rosa Parks quotes
Rosa Parks quotes on her legacy
1. “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free…so other people would also be free.”
2. “I was just trying to let them know how I felt about being treated as a human being”
3. “I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move.”
4. “I will no longer act on the outside in a way that contradicts the truth that I hold deeply inside. I will no longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself inwardly to be.”
5. “From the time I was a child, I tried to protest against disrespectful treatment.”
6. “Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
7. “Whatever my individual desires were to be free, I was not alone. There were many others who felt the same way.”
Rosa Parks quotes on overcoming fear
8. “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes the fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
9. “What really matters is not whether we have problems, but whether we go through them. We must keep going on to make it through whatever we are facing.”
10. “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”
Rosa Parks quotes on creating lasting change
11. “Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.”
12. “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”
13. “Each person must live their life as a model for others.”
14. “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up, and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”
15. "We still, today, have a long way to go, and we have to continue our work."
16. "Without vision, people perish, and without courage and inspiration dreams die."
More Rosa Parks quotes
17. “Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.”
18. “Differences of race, nationality, or religion should not be used to deny any human being citizenship rights or privileges.”
19. “I see the energy of young people as a real force for positive change.”