How Rosa Parks changed a nation

  • Rosa Parks waves from a United Air Lines jetway in Seattle, Wash., 1956.
  • Rosa Parks arrives at circuit court to be arraigned in the racial bus boycott, Feb. 24, 1956 in Montgomery, Ala. The boycott began around Dec. 5, when Mrs. Parks was fined for refusing to move to the black section of a city bus. 
  • Rosa Parks, circa 1950. 
  • Rosa and Raymond Parks, seated at a banquet table (left side, third and fourth chair), likely at an NAACP branch meeting, Montgomery, Ala., circa 1947.
  • Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913-2005), American civil rights activist. Booking photo taken at the time of her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. 
  • Rosa Parks, left, who was fined $10 and court costs for violating Montgomery’s segregation ordinance for city buses, makes bond for appeal to Circuit Court, Dec. 5, 1955. Signing the bond were E.D. Nixon (center), former state president of the NAACP, and attorney Fred Gray. Gray hinted that the ordinance requiring segregation would be attacked as unconstitutional. 
  • Rosa Parks seated toward the front of the bus, Montgomery, Ala., 1956. 
  • An unidentified African-American man reads a newspaper at a meeting regarding the ongoing bus boycott in the wake of the Rosa Parks incident, Montgomery, Ala., February 1956.
  • Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of a bus touched off the Montgomery bus boycott and the beginning of the civil rights movement, is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., Feb. 22, 1956. She was among some 100 people charged with violating segregation laws.
  • Rosa Parks collecting NAACP membership dues of $2.00, likely during her trip to Los Angeles, Calif., in 1956. 
  • Rosa Parks, Nov. 1956. 
  • American civil rights activist Rosa Parks (center, in dark coat and hat) waits to board a bus at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott, Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 26, 1956. 
  • Rev. Martin Luther King, director of the segregated bus boycott, brimming with enthusiasm as he outlines boycott strategies to his advisers and organizers, including (seated L-R) Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rosa Parks, who was the catalyst for the protest of bus riders.
  • Rosa Parks and Honorable Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, circa 1968. 
  • Black activist Kwame Toure (L), formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, at the University of Michigan to discuss civil rights at a forum. Another civil rights leader Rosa Parks (R) has a lighter moment with Toure after a panel discussion, Feb. 14, 1983.
  • Civil rights activist Rosa Parks is seen in her Detroit home on June 22, 1988. 
  • Undated writing by Parks expressing the personal pain inflicted by racial segregation and discrimination. The collection contains bits and scraps of her writings and notes for speeches, created in or around 1956, in which she described what happened that fateful evening of Dec. 1, 1955, and the subsequent unfolding of the bus boycott. Parks worked hard to place her arrest in the broader context of Jim Crow racial segregation and discrimination. She framed her decision to remain seated as one among many incidents of black protest. Rosa Parks Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Rosa Parks and Congressman John Conyers, in Detroit, Mich., circa 1990.
  • Rosa Parks weeps during funeral services for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Atlanta, April 9, 1968. Parks’s refusal to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955 triggered a wave of protests that became known as the modern day civil rights movement. 
  • Rosa Parks photographed on Feb. 1, 1989.

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Rosa Parks would have turned 102 on Wednesday, Feb. 4. The civil rights icon sparked a movement with her decision on one December day in 1955, when she chose not to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man. In a time when transportation was segregated by law in the South, the 42-year-old seamstress remained firm and chose to be arrested, rather than give into a system she felt was deeply unjust. 

“I was not tired physically,” Parks wrote in her autobiography. “No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Parks’ arrest led the black community of Montgomery to boycott the municipal bus system. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then just 26 years old, led the boycott that began around the day Parks was sentenced, Dec. 5, and continued until Dec. 20 of the following year, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s written order deeming bus segregation unconstitutional arrived in the city. Integrated bus service in Montgomery began the very next day.

As a result, Parks became credited with starting a wave of protests that led to the Civil Rights Movement. She faced harassment as a result of the notoriety gained from her protest and arrest. Nonetheless, Parks went on to spend a lifetime devoted to promoting civil rights. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor given to a civilian, in 1999.

Parks died on Oct. 24, 2005, at the age of 92. She became the first woman in U.S. history to lie in state at the Capitol.

To coincide with Parks’ birthday, the Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress will formally open to researchers on Feb. 4. The collection contains approximately 7,500 manuscripts and 2,500 photographs. Items in the Library’s Manuscript Division can be consulted during reading room hours; the pictures in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division will be available by appointment. Later this year, selected collection items will be accessible online.

A selection of photographs from the collection can be seen in this photo essay.  

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

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