She has been called the first lady of civil rights.
Rosa Parks, who died 15 years ago on Oct. 24, 2005, is a global icon of the struggle against racial injustice, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.
After finishing her work as a seamstress on the evening of Dec. 1, 1955, Parks sat in the “colored” section in the middle of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, where she was required to sit under Jim Crow-era laws. But there was a movable line between the segregated sections, and when the white section filled up, the bus driver asked her to move.
Parks slid to the window seat in the same aisle, but from there she refused to budge until she was escorted off the bus by the police under arrest. Parks’ action inspired the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott, a seminal event in the civil rights movement.
Parks remained active in promoting civil rights for the rest of her life, including opposing apartheid in South Africa. When she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, she was recognized for remaining “committed to the cause of freedom, speaking out against injustice here and abroad” and demonstrating “in the words of Robert Kennedy, that each time a person strikes out against injustice, she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope which, crossing millions of others, can sweep down the walls of oppression.”
When Parks died at the age of 92, the front seats of buses in Montgomery and Detroit (Parks’ hometown at the time of her death) were draped with black ribbons in her honor.
Lead photo by Associated Press/Paul Sancya