What is Rosa Parks Known For?

Rosa Parks was an influential figure whose brave and decisive actions helped launch the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Jun 21, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art

what is rosa parks known for


Rosa Parks is widely recognized today for the pivotal role she played during the Civil Rights movement in the United States. She famously refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger while travelling in her home town of Montgomery in Alabama. This seemingly simple act of silent protest became the catalyst for a series of actions that followed. Rosa Parks also went on to become an active spokesperson as the Civil Right movement gained traction, and citizens fought for equal rights and a bid to end racial segregation. We take a closer look at the most enduring aspects of Rosa Parks’ legacy, in celebration of her contributions to society.


Rosa Parks Refused to Give up Her Seat

rosa parks bus ride
Rosa Parks riding the bus in Montgomery, Alabama


An African-American, Rosa Parks had lived in the Montgomery area of Alabama since the age of 11. She knew the bus segregation laws there all too well – Black citizens had to ride at the designated back area of the bus, while white people rode at the front. These rules were written in law, but occasionally bus drivers still asked Black riders to give up seats if there were none available at the front.


On one particular day in 1955, the 42-year-old Rosa Parks was riding the bus home from work, when the driver told four passengers in the ‘colored’ section to stand, to give a seat to a white man because the ‘white’ section was full. Three other passengers stood up, but Parks chose not to. She later wrote in her biography, “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… No, the only tired I was, was of giving in.”


She Was Arrested and Lost Her Job

rosa parks arrest montgomery
Rosa Parks following her arrest in 1955


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When the bus driver refused to leave, two police officers came aboard and assessed the situation. They subsequently took Parks into custody. After being released on bail, Parks was later found guilty of violating segregation laws, and handed out a suspended sentence, along with a fine. Throughout her trial, Parks faced threats and harassment, as well as losing her job in the process.


Her Actions Led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott

montgomery bus boycott protest
Empty seats on a bus during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, via US National Archives, Washington DC


Civil Rights activist E.D. Nixon was impressed by Parks’ honesty and integrity and he convinced her to let him use her case as a means of highlighting the invalid nature of segregation laws. He also launched a new idea – the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which African Americans refused to ride buses, beginning on the same day that parks was to be tried in court. Fliers were distributed widely and news of the boycott spread fast.


Around 40,000 Black citizens, who made up the bulk of bus riders in the city, continued with the boycott for over a year, leaving the city’s buses almost entirely empty. Instead, they organized a series of carpools, while African American taxi drivers reduced their fares to meet the same rate as a bus for Black passengers. Others chose to simply walk. Finally, in 1956, a Montgomery federal court overruled the bus segregation laws, and the city’s buses were fully integrated. As the mascot for the boycott, Parks subsequently became known as the “mother of the Civil Rights movement.” 


She Co-Founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development

rosa parks later years
Rosa Parks in her later years


Following continuous harassment after the bus boycott, Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development along with her friend Elaine Eason Steele, which was dedicated to Parks’ late husband Raymond. Their venture was devoted to youth development and civil rights education and advocacy for the 11-17 age group, and the foundation continues to carry out the same pioneering and life-changing work today.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.