On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks sat on a crowded bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on her way home from her job at a shirt factory. The bus was segregated with roughly the front half reserved for white bus riders and the back half for blacks. A sign separated the two sections. Rosa sat on one of the first seats behind the sign in the black section.
As the bus continued on its route, it began to fill up with white passengers. Some whites stood in the aisle. The bus driver stopped and walked back to the sign. He moved it farther toward the back and asked four blacks to give up their seats for the white people standing in the aisle. Three obliged him, but Rosa Parks continued to sit on the seat.
“Why don’t you stand up?” the bus driver asked her.
“I don’t think I should have to stand up,” replied Parks.
The bus driver called the police who arrested Parks and charged her with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code. She was taken to police headquarters, where, later that night, she was released on bail. Her eventual fine was $10 and $4 for court costs.
Later, Parks stated that she was not physically tired, but just tired of giving in. (Rosa Parks Biography)
Within days of Parks’ heroic stand against racism, the Civil Rights Movement began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Most of the estimated 40,000 black bus commuters refused to ride on the city buses. They walked, rode in black taxi cabs, or car pooled to work.
Dozens of buses sat idle, crippling the bus line and downtown merchants as the boycott progressed forward. Segregationists retaliated by burning black churches and bombing the homes of the boycott leaders. Black taxi cabs had their insurance policies suspended. Black citizens were arrested just for observing the boycott.
Rosa and her husband, Raymond, were fired from their jobs. They ended up moving to Detroit, Michigan, where Rosa worked for Congressman John Conyers as a receptionist and secretary.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott ended on December 21, 1956. The 381 day boycott showed America and black Americans the power of a large group walking together with truth on their side.
Rosa Parks was the spark needed to set off the Civil Rights Movement, but another person emerged from Montgomery to become the dominant voice of that era: Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Continued in Part 7)