Happy Birthday Rosa Parks – Who was Tougher Than You Think

Rosa Parks riding at the front after segregation on the bus was declared illegal.Monday marks the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks, the civil rights icon who ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott when she refused to give up her seat and move to the "blacks-only" section on December 1, 1955. Though Parks' actions that day undoubtedly took an enormous amount of courage, she is often described as "quiet" and even "polite." A new book, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Parks, focuses on Parks' more aggressive (and lesser known) activism. Here are a few things you might not know about Rosa Parks, before the bus:

Rosa Parks was raised by her grandparents, who believed in self-defense.


When a white man taunted a young Parks, she threatened him with a brick. When her grandmother reprimanded her, she responded, "I would rather be lynched than run over by them." Her grandfather would sit on the porch of their house armed with a rifle in case the Klan showed up. Rosa would often sit with him because "I wanted to see him kill a Klu Kluxer."

She worked for the civil rights cause for two decades before the protest.

Parks worked as the secretary of the Montgomery, Alabama branch of the N.A.A.C.P. for 20 years before the protest, which was not a spontaneous decision. "I had felt for a long time, that if I was ever told to get up so a white person could sit, that I would refuse to do so." A decade earlier, Parks was thrown off a bus by the same driver for refusing to board at the back of the bus.

She married Raymond Parks because she was inspired by his activism.


When Rosa met Raymond he was working to free the Scottsboro Boys-nine black teenagers who had been sentenced to the electric chair for raping a white woman even though there was no real evidence in the case. Initially, Rosa wasn't interested in Raymond because of his light skin, but he would become her husband and her "political partner." Raymond encouraged her to get her high school diploma-she had dropped out in the 11th grade to care for her ailing grandmother.

Rumors that she would not move because of fatigue are patently untrue.


In her autobiography, My Story, she wrote, "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, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."