On 1st December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913 –2005) was a 42-year-old African American employed as a seamstress at a local department store.
On the evening of Thursday, 1st December 1955, after a long day of work, Rosa boarded a bus to go home. Black residents of Montgomery were not always able to avoid using municipal buses even though they found the Negroes-in-back policy humiliating (the front of the bus was reserved for white citizens, and the seats behind them for black ones).
About seventy percent of the passengers were black, and on that day, Rosa was one of them.
She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of seats in the “coloured” section. Little by little, the bus began to fill.
The Montgomery city ordinance allowed bus drivers to assign seating, but it did not permit them to require passengers to leave their seats. Despite this, they usually required black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers when public transportation became full.
When, at a certain point on the route, a white man did not find a seat since the whites-only section was filled, bus driver James F. Blake told the riders in the four seats of the first row of the “coloured” section to stand, so he could add another row to the “white” section.
Rosa refused, the bus driver called the police and two police officers, after assessing the situation, arrested her.
On 5 December, the courts found her guilty of violating the city segregation law – although technically she had not taken a white-only seat as she was sitting in a coloured section – and fined her $10 plus $4 in court costs.
African American leaders, including E.D. Nixon and Martin Luther King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott for the day of her trial.
It rained all that day, but the black community did not surrender: some rode in carpools, some travelled in black-operated cabs that charged the same fare as the bus, and others walked, some as far as 20 miles (30 km).
The boycott succeeded and the 40,000 black commuters continued it for 381 days. A lot of public buses stood idle for months and this severely damaged the finances of the transportation system in Montgomery.
The boycott engendered also anger and some violence in much of the white population, and Nixon’s and King’s homes were bombed. But this didn’t deter the boycotters or their leaders, who did not give in.
After several months, in November 1956, the Supreme Court decided to ban segregation on public transportation and the boycott ended in December, when the Court’s written order arrived in Montgomery.
Rosa Parks – who had lost her job due to economic sanctions used against activists, had suffered hardships and experienced harassment all year – became known as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the civil rights movement.”
[Image by Adam Jones (Wikimedia Commons) – Diorama of Rosa Parks in Her Bus Seat – National Civil Rights Museum – Downtown Memphis – Tennessee – USA]