This year marks the centennial of Rosa Parks’ birth, and there are several celebrations and commemorative events planned. Rosa Parks’ act of refusing to give up her bus seat to a white customer on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama sparked the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott that culminated in a Supreme Court case outlawing segregation on public transportation.
At times Rosa Parks is portrayed as someone who was just “tired” and her refusing to move was simply a physical act. In fact, Parks had been secretary for the local branch of the NAACP since 1943, she had attended workshops at the Highlander Folk School (now the Highlander Research and Education Center), and was a politically active and aware person.
The Film & Media Archive has several primary resources relating to Rosa Parks including photos and interview transcripts. In her interview from Eyes on the Prize, which is available online in transcript form or video, Parks recalled,
It was not a matter, or me deciding that day, because for a long, over a period of time, over the years, I had had problems with the bus drivers, and this one who had me arrested on that day was the same one who had evicted me from the bus on 1943, which did not cause anything more than just a passing glance. I did have to leave the bus and find another way of transportation home or wait for another bus or walk.
At this point the driver asked us to stand up and let him have those seats and when neither, none of us moved at his first words, he said, “You all make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats”…he asked me if I was going to stand up and I said, “No I’m not.” And he said, “Well, if you, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you—call the police and have you arrested.” I said “You may do that.” And he did get off the bus and stayed for a few minutes and I still stayed where I was and when two policemen came on the bus, the driver pointed me out and he said that he needed the seats, and other three stood—that one—he just said, “That one would not.” And when the policeman approached me one of them spoke and asked me if the bus driver had asked me to stand and I said, “Yes.” He said, “Why don’t you stand up?” I said, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” And I asked him, “Why do you push us around?” He said, “I do not know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”
—Interview with Rosa Parks, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 14, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965)
As part of her centennial Rosa Parks is also being honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a forever stamp design, and a statue of her will be installed in Statuary Hall in Capitol Hill to be revealed in late 2013.