Honoring the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”

Today’s post comes to us from Michael Hussey, education and exhibition specialist at the National Archives.(He’s also a speaker at tonight’s program!)

Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913. In honor of her centennial, “Public Law 106-26, An Act to authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to Rosa Parks in recognition of her contributions to the Nation,” is on display at the National Archives until February 28.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks went as usual to her job as a seamstress.  By the time she returned home, her role as an enduring symbol of the African American civil rights movement had begun.

Fingerprint card of Rosa Parks, from "Aurelia S. Browder et al. v. W. A. Gayle et al., No. 1147," from the Civil Cases series of the Records of District Courts of the United States.

Seamstress Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus on December 1, 1955, after her day’s work. The driver ordered her to move to the back to make room for white passengers, in compliance with the state’s racial segregation law.  She refused, and her arrest sparked a successful boycott of Montgomery buses (led by 26-year-old minister Martin Luther King, Jr.) that led to their integration. Her courageous act at a pivotal moment in the American struggle for racial equality led some to name her the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

In 1999, Congress authorized President Clinton to bestow upon her its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.  At the medal ceremony, the President noted the “ripples of impact she had on millions of people who lived in the United States.” She reminded us, he said, that for many Americans, “our history was full of weary years—our sweet land of liberty bearing only bitter fruit and silent tears. And so she sat, anchored to that seat, as Dr. King said, ‘by the accumulated indignities of days gone by, and the countless aspirations of generations yet unborn.’”

Rosa Parks at the ceremony to award her the Congressional Gold Medal, June 15, 1999. From the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives

3 thoughts on “Honoring the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”

  1. Hi Michael, I appreciate the post. Last year, I attended a Black History month event where several speakers discussed efforts to pass a Rosa Parks observance day. I’m writing from St. Louis, but I grew up not too far from Montgomery and I’ve visited the city a few times, along with Selma and other neighboring areas to Mississippi. Is there an image of the medal available, for staff outside the D.C. area? Also, is the finger print card part of Atlanta’s holdings? Are there other documents related to that arrest?

  2. Terrific post, Michael. Wanda, I just spent time this weekend helping my fourth-grade son do a report on Rosa Parks. We went online to the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and found digital copies of the diagram of the bus where Rosa Parks was seated (ARC Identifier 596069) and the police report on Rosa Parks’ arrest (ARC Identifier 596074). My son really wanted to see Ms. Parks’ fingerprint card, which is in Atlanta, but no digital copies were available. He’ll be thrilled this evening when I show him this post!

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