Rosa Parks
Civil Rights Hero
  Each person must live their life as a model for others.
About the Innovator

Rosa Parks did not mean to inspire a social movement when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus. Her action on December 1, 1955, was spontaneous. She knew she had taken a huge risk.  As she later said, "When I made that decision, I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me."

Rosa' Parks' awareness of social injustice started at an early age.  Growing up in Alabama, where she was born in 1913, she hated the disrespectful way that whites often treated black people.  Her grandfather, a former slave, instilled a sense of pride and independence in her.

Her life took a radical turn when she married Raymond Parks, a self-educated activist who encouraged her to work as a secretary at the local branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  This experience opened her eyes to the widespread discrimination faced by African Americans.

During the summer of 1955, Parks had the opportunity to attend a civil rights training workshop at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee.  There, she met fiery Septima Clark, a black female activist from South Carolina.  Parks later recalled, "I only hope that there is a possible chance that some of Septima's great courage and dignity and wisdom has rubbed off on me."

The simple, courageous act of protest by Rosa Parks, and her subsequent arrest, led to a city-wide bus boycott that lasted 381 days.  Her act gave African Americans a new sense of pride and purpose and inspired non-violent protests in other cities.  Many consider her singular act of protest to be the event that sparked the Civil Rights movement.

Why She Innovated

Rosa Parks was not the first African American to challenge the segregation laws of a public transportation system. But her flawless character, her quiet strength, and her moral fortitude caused her act to successfully ignite action in others. The African-American community knew that, this time, “they had messed with the wrong one.” Rosa Parks is not an innovator in the traditional sense, nor would she have considered herself to be one. Yet, her simple, spontaneous act embodies the notion of social innovation—that a new idea or way of doing things can have such far-reaching impact, that it renders old ways obsolete and radically alters how people think about themselves, their social interactions, and their place in the larger world. The arrest of Rosa Parks and the resulting bus boycott also led to the meteoric rise of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., as the widely recognized leader of this movement. By the time she passed away in 2005, Rosa Parks had become an international symbol of the struggle for human rights and freedom.


Additional Resources
Online Collections
Curators Choice: Top 25 American Democracy & Civil Rights items
Rosa Parks
Segregation
Civil Rights

Online Exhibits
“With Liberty and Justice for All”
The Story Behind the Rosa Parks Bus at Henry Ford Museum
Curators Explore Museum Icons: The Rosa Parks Bus
Inspired by Rosa Parks: Curt Flood’s Battle with Major League Baseball
Segregated Travel and the Uncommon Courage of Rosa Parks

Educational Resources
Be an Innovator Like… Rosa Parks Book
Rosa Parks and Social Innovation Grades 6-12 Lesson Plan
The Henry Ford Education Resource Bank

Related Exhibits, Events and Programs
National Day of Courage in Henry Ford Museum
With Liberty & Justice For All exhibit
Celebrate Black History in Henry Ford Museum
Martin Luther King Day Program

External Links
Rosa Parks
This Day in History: December
Civil Rights Icon Rosa Parks Dies
The Power of 2857
Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL

The Complete Curator Interview on Rosa Parks

Donna Braden, The Henry Ford's Curator of Public Life, discusses the simple, courageous act of protest by Rosa Parks, and her subsequent arrest, which led to a city-wide bus boycott that lasted 381 days.  Her act gave African Americans a new sense of pride and purpose and inspired non-violent protests in other cities.  Many consider her singular act of protest to be the event that sparked the Civil Rights movement.


Watch the Complete Interview
Download the Interview Transcript (PDF)

Be an Innovator Like… Rosa Parks

RosaParksBusBookCover

 

Be an Innovator Like… Rosa Parks is an educational activity book of The Henry Ford. It provides historical facts and primary sources in a fun, relevant and engaging manner to inspire a love of reading among youth. It also reinforces 21st-century skills development by providing unique learning opportunities for critical and innovative thinking and creative visualization.

 

To purchase this Book, click here.

 

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