Rosa Parks Day: Why We Celebrate the Civil Rights Leader

Rosa Parks, an iconic figure, was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. A black woman, she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, and was subsequently arrested for this action. Her conviction for this incident helped to spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Many rightfully credit her with paving the way for equal rights for all races. In honor of Rosa’s lifetime contributions to racial equality, some states now celebrate Rosa Parks Day.

What Is Rosa Parks Day All About?

Four states celebrate Rosa Parks Day, a day honoring the life and accomplishments of Rosa Parks. California became the first state to designate a holiday in Mrs. Parks’ honor. In 2014, both Missouri and Oregon passed legislation to recognize the civil rights leader. Finally, Ohio’s state legislature voted to honor Rosa. The Columbus, Ohio bus system (also known as COTA) pays a special tribute to Rosa on this day as well.

When Do We Celebrate Rosa Parks Day?

There are actually two different days that honor Rosa. California and Missouri celebrate on Rosa’s birthday, February 4. Ohio and Oregon celebrate Rosa Parks Day on the day of her arrest, December 1.

The History of Rosa Parks Day

To understand why we celebrate Rosa, we have to understand her contribution to the Civil Rights movement. Rosa was always interested in the movement. She was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. Her husband, Raymond, was involved in raising money to help defend the Scottsboro boys (twelve young black men falsely accused of raping two white women; rape was a capital offense during that era).

The Arrest

Most people know that Rosa was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, but most do not know that this wasn’t the first run-in Rosa had had with that particular bus driver. In 1943, Rosa was attempting to board a Montgomery bus when the driver stopped her and told her to board via the back door. Rosa did so, but the driver pulled away before Rosa could actually board the bus. At the time, she vowed she would never board a bus driven by that particular driver again, a Mr. James F. Blake.

On the infamous day that Rosa boarded the bus and refused to give up her seat, she realized too late that she was once again on a bus driven by Blake. She stood her ground, though. In fact, when asked why she would not give up her seat, she replied, “I was tired.” Yes, she was tired, as were many – tired of the mistreatment of blacks simply because of their skin color. Soon, planning began for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an event that was seminal to the movement as a whole.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Originally, the boycott was meant to be a one-day affair. On Monday, December 5, 1955, all blacks in the area refused to use the bus system for transportation. The movement caught on, and blacks continued their refusal to use the bus transit system, a boycott that lasted a little over a year. Ironically, as much as some bus drivers treated blacks with disdain and no respect, blacks made up the largest block of city transit customers – some 40,000 men and women. This caused the Montgomery Bus System to become almost bankrupt.

Fellow Civil Rights champions Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy also participated in in the boycott. Finally, the boycott ended when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the laws in Alabama requiring buses to remain segregated were unconstitutional. The name of this case was Browder vs. Gayle. Many do not remember the name of the case that made segregation on buses illegal, but they do remember Rosa and the courage she displayed that day simply by saying “No.” Historically, Rosa is nicknamed the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Rosa Parks Day Celebrations

Each state celebrates Rosa in its own way. In Ohio, members of the Columbus Corps, COSI Science Museum, Ohio Transit Authority, and Ohio State University joined together to honor Rosa and her contributions to racial equality. More than 800 students from Columbus City Schools also join in the event. Other states celebrate by gathering together, listening to lecturers who honor Mrs. Parks, teachers devoting a special lesson to Rosa, and more.

Final Thoughts

The “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” lived a simple life, and historians often say she “stumbled” into fame “accidentally.” Rosa once said, “I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail.” Rosa’s bravery in the face of arrest and possible police brutality helped bring about an event that would culminate in a judicial victory in the land’s highest court. Thank you, Rosa! Our nation would be tremendously different without her actions and work for equal rights for all.