Civil rights heroine Rosa Parks (1913-2005) electrified the nation when she was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., and give her seat to a white passenger.
On December 1, 1955, after a long day’s work at a Montgomery department store, where she worked as a seamstress, Parks boarded a city bus and took a seat in the first of several rows designated for “colored” passengers. As the crowded bus filled with white passengers, the driver directed four black riders to give up their seats; only Parks refused. She was arrested and was later released on bail.
After her arrest, the local chapter of the NAACP organized a bus boycott in solidarity with Mrs. Parks. Local black leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association, electing Montgomery newcomer Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.as minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Mrs. Parks was found guilty of violating a local ordinance and was fined $10, as well as a $4 court fee. The boycott lasted for several months as Dr. King’s house was bombed.
A legal fight ensued, and in 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that found separate-but-equal racial segregation laws unconstitutional. The city ended its bus segregation policies later that year. Still, Mrs. Parks and her husband both lost their jobs.
The figure of Mrs. Parks, sculpted by Chas Fagan and carved in place by Cathedral stonecarver Sean Callahan, completes a set of carvings set on either side of the archway over a portal with a companion carving of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The Human Rights Porch has been dedicated to “individuals who have taken significant, profound, and life-changing actions in the fight for human rights, social justice, civil rights, and the welfare of other human beings.”
As then-Dean Gary Hall said at the 2012 dedication, “Mother Teresa’s service to the poorest of the poor recognized the dignity of every human being. Rosa Parks emphasized that, with that dignity, must come equal rights. It’s only fitting that they look across from each other now, as part of a doorway through which we all must pass.”