Rosa Parks

The ‘mother’ of the American Civil Right’s movement, Rosa Park’s bravery in defying racist authority to defend her personal rights and dignity helped transform a nation.

Born Rosa Louise McCauley, the daughter of a carpenter and a teacher, Rosa's existence within the racist environment of the South instilled in her a constant sense of fear and injustice.

"Back then," she recalled, "we didn't have any civil rights, it was just a matter of survival. I remember going to sleep as a girl, hearing the Ku Klux Klan ride at night… afraid the house would burn down."

She married Raymond Parks in 1932, and both began to work for their local National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People office. Rosa became its local secretary in the 1950s.

On 1 December 1955, as she was riding home from a long day at work, she was ordered by the bus driver to give up her seat on a public bus so that a white man might sit. She refused, was arrested and fined $14.

A city-wide boycott of the bus companies was organised by African Americans, to force the city to desegregate public transportation.

A young minister, Martin Luther King, Jr became involved, and began to make a name for himself through his oratory. The boycott continued, despite official opposition, for 382 days. It became the largest boycott in American history. During the boycott, 17,000 black people in Montgomery walked to work or obtained lifts from the small car-owning population.

The boycott was ended on 21 December 1956 when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional, and due to the company's loss of revenue, Parks and King became national heroes.

It was the beginning of a mass movement of non-violent social change, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Moving to Detroit in 1957, she began working with Congressman J. Conyers, and continued her involvement in the civil rights struggle, attending rallies and speaking at demonstrations.

In 1980, she received the Martin Luther King, Jr Non-violent Peace Prize and started devoting her time to good works as she was now a widow and had no immediate family. She co-founded the Rosa L Parks Scholarship Foundation for college-bound high school seniors, to which she donated the majority of her speaker fees.

In 1987, she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute of Self Development, in Detroit, which introduces young people to civil rights and takes them on visits to Underground Railway sites, which were instrumental in helping slaves escape the US in the 19th century.

Despite being in her 70s, she devoted most of her time to these causes and started writing her story. In 1992, she published 'Rosa Parks: My Story', which was an autobiography aimed at young people and gave details as to why she didn't give up her seat.

This was followed by her memoirs 'Quiet Strength', released in 1995, which looked at how her faith had played a part in her role. At the age of 81, she was attacked in her home by a drug addict causing outrage across the US. She moved to the high-security Riverfront Towers.

In 1999, she filmed a cameo appearance for TV show 'Touched by An Angel', which was to be her final TV appearance due to ill health. In 2002, she received an eviction notice from her apartment due to unpaid rent but her church came to her rescue to pay it.

In 2004, the same thing happened but a highly publicised outcry made the owners of the building forgive the backdated rent and to let Parks stay in her home.

Parks died on 24 October 2005 at the age of 92 from natural causes.