8 Inspiring Facts About Rosa Parks

Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Flickr
Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Flickr

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks solidified her place in the history books by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger—an arrestable offense in then-segregated Montgomery, Alabama. That quiet act of defiance helped kick-start the Civil Rights Movement and made Parks a household name. But it isn’t the only thing she should be remembered for. Here are some facts worth knowing about the icon on what would have been her 106th birthday.

1. She finished high school at a time when that was rare.

Though Rosa Parks enjoyed school, she dropped out at age 16 to take care of her dying grandmother. When she was 19 years old, Parks’s husband, Raymond, urged her to complete her high school education. She received her diploma in 1933, making her part of the mere 7 percent of African Americans at the time to earn the distinction.

2. She was active in politics.

Parks's fight for equal rights for African Americans didn’t start with her fateful arrest. In 1943, she joined the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP and served as its secretary until 1956. Part of her duties included traveling across the state and interviewing victims of discrimination and witnesses to lynchings. After moving from Alabama to Detroit, Parks worked as an assistant to U.S. Representative John Conyers, where she helped find housing for homeless people.

3. The bus driver who had her arrested in 1955 had given her trouble before.

Parks’s first conflict with James Blake, the bus driver who reported her to the police in 1955, came more than a decade earlier. In 1943, she boarded a bus driven by Blake and, after she paid her fare, he told her to exit and re-enter through the back doors—a rule for black riders using the segregated bus system. Instead of waiting for her to get back in, Blake drove away once Parks was off the bus. She avoided the driver for more than 10 years until one day she boarded his bus without paying attention. When she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger, Blake was the one who called the police and had her arrested.

4. She helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.

Parks never planned to start a movement, but that’s what happened shortly after her arrest. Civil rights groups used her quiet protest as an opportunity to shine a national spotlight on unconstitutional segregation laws in the Deep South. The Montgomery bus boycott kicked off just days after her arrest, and less than a year later, the Supreme Court deemed the city’s segregated buses illegal. Parks’s arrest and the bus boycott are viewed by many historians as the inciting events of the movement that led to federal civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

5. She wasn’t the first black woman who refused to give up her seat.

Just nine months before Parks made history in Montgomery, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested in the same city for not moving from her bus seat for a white passenger. Colvin was the first person taken in custody for violating Montgomery's bus segregation laws, but her actions were quickly overshadowed when Parks became the face of the Montgomery bus boycotts less than a year later.

6. She was arrested a second time.

Not long after her historic arrest in 1955, Parks got into trouble with the law again on February 22, 1956. This time, she was arrested with close to 100 of her fellow protesters for breaking segregation laws during the Montgomery bus boycott. The famous photograph of Parks being fingerprinted by a police officer came from this second arrest, though it’s often mistakenly thought to show her first.

7. The founder of Little Caesars paid her rent for years.

After surviving a robbery and assault in her Detroit apartment in 1994, Parks was in need of a new place to live. Mike Ilitch, the founder of Little Caesars, heard of the plan and offered to cover her rent for as long as she needed it. He and his wife Marian ended up paying for Parks to live in a safer apartment until her death in 2005 at the age of 92.

8. She was the first woman lain in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Following her death in 2005, Parks was lain in state under the Capitol rotunda. The honor is reserved for the country’s most distinguished citizens—usually ones who have held public office. Parks remains the only woman and one of just four private citizens to receive the honor.

How Seiichi Miyake and Tactile Paving Changed the World for Visually Impaired People

iStock.com/RonBailey
iStock.com/RonBailey

More than 140 years after Louis Braille invented the Braille reading system, Seiichi Miyake came up with a different system based on touch that allows visually impaired people to navigate public spaces. Today, tactile paving is used by major cities and transportation services around the world. Miyake was so influential that he's the subject of the Google Doodle for March 18, the 52nd anniversary of tactile paving's debut.

The Japanese inventor designed the influential system with a specific person in mind. His friend was losing his vision, so in 1965, Miyake used his own money to build special mats with raised shapes that lead blind and visually impaired people away from danger and toward safety. Pavement with round bumps was meant to signal nearby danger, such as a street crossing or the edge of a train platform, while a stretch of pavement with straight bars was meant to guide them to safe areas. The tactile design allowed pedestrians to detect the features with canes, guide dogs, or their feet.

Originally called Tenji blocks, the tactile pavement was first installed outside the Okayama School for the Blind in Okayama, Japan in 1967. They quickly spread to larger cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, and within a decade, Miyake's system was mandatory in all Japanese rail stations.

Seiichi Miyake died in 1982 at age 56, but the popularity of his invention has only grown since his death. In the 1990s, the U.S., the UK, and Canada embraced tactile pavement in their cities. Miyake's initial design has been built upon throughout the years; there are now pill-shaped bumps to indicate changes in direction and raised lines running perpendicular to foot traffic to signal upcoming steps. And even though they're often thought of as tools for blind people, the bright colors used in tactile pavement also make them more visible to pedestrians with visual impairments.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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