Rosa Parks Day is a national observance in honor of one of the most loved figures of the civil rights movement; Parks was the Montgomery, Alabama woman who refused to give up her seat on public transportation to make room for a white passenger; her subsequent arrest and a resulting boycott of the Montgomery bus system were a major focal point for civil rights in America.
There are actually two Rosa Parks Day observances in America. Some are held on the day of her arrest, December 1st. The State of California observes Rosa Parks Day on her birthday, February 4th along with New York and Missouri.
Rosa Parks Day (birthday) will next be observed on Saturday, February 4, 2023.
Rosa Parks Day (arrest) will next be observed on Thursday, December 1, 2022.
On December 1, 1955, an African American named Rosa Parks was using the Montgomery City Bus system. The bus driver asked Parks to vacate a “whites only” seat, and Parks refused. She was arrested under the Jim Crow laws of the day, but this particular case was destined to become something far greater than an arrest over the violation of a local ordinance.
For context, it’s crucial to remember that prior to the boycott, people of color were typically not hired as bus drivers, and they were forced to ride at the rear of the bus. These passengers were frequently required to give up seats for white passengers–in spite of the fact that riders of color made up the majority of customers.
At one time, Montgomery public transportation policies indicated that certain seats at the front of the bus were “always” reserved for white passengers while certain seats at the rear of the bus were “always” meant for non-white riders. When a rider refuses to give up a seat in this context, they are breaking public transportation laws, not just engaging in an act of defiance against a bus driver on a power trip.
Rosa Parks’ arrest got the attention of Martin Luther King, Jr. who took up her cause. Rosa Parks appealed her arrest, and King initiated a boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama public transportation system.
The boycott ran for over a year, and the appeal reached the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court ruled Montgomery’s segregation laws were unconstitutional. It was a huge victory for civil rights, especially in a southern state with segregationist laws that seemed desperate to hang on to the past.
Over the years the Rosa Parks Story has been an inspiration to many. Preserving her legacy has become so important to some that efforts were made to restore and preserve the “Rosa Parks bus” where the December 1 incident occurred. The restoration was a success and today the bus is a part of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Several sources list California as one of the states observing Rosa Parks Day as a state holiday but you are not likely to find school closures or federal offices shutting down on February 4th. Instead there are more localized observances.
One such observance in San Francisco had the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) installing Rosa Parks plaques on select city buses. SFMTA also installed a bus system-wide awareness campaign; Black Women Of Transit History honors the contributions and sacrifices made in commitment to civil rights in the transportation industry.
You may find more Rosa Parks observances in community centers and places of higher education. A good example in 2022 was the “virtual event” held online by San Diego Mesa College.
This online gathering was meant not only to remember Parks but also to inspire new commitments to social justice. San Diego Mesa College is a destination of sorts for those interested in celebrating her legacy; the campus is the site of a Rosa Parks memorial at the campus bus stop.
A Los Angeles “community celebration” of Rosa Parks was held in 2022 at Leimert Park. Organizers of this event are especially proud that the State of California was the “first in the Nation to officially honor our Patron Saint”, Rosa Parks.
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