Rosa Parks - Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rosa Parks--who started the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, defeated Jim Crow laws in Alabama, set nonviolence as the tone for the Woolworth's sit-ins, Freedom Riders and 1960s Civil Rights Movement--even in death, remains a model of peace.
Rosa Parks Photo - Booked for Arrest
Rosa Parks Photo - Booked for Arrest
April 13, 2011 - PRLog -- On December 1, 1955, a beautiful, smart, educated, hard-working, 42-year-old black seamstress, named Rosa Parks, boarded a bus after work and sat down in a seat designated as black seating. From stop to stop, the white section of the bus filled, leaving no vacant seats in the white section. The bus driver ordered Rosa Parks to move from her seat so that a white man who was standing could sit down.

After being ordered several times to move, Rosa Parks remained seated, silently setting off national alarms against a racist legal system, known as Jim Crow. An anti-discrimination plan, brewing for decades nationwide, designed to destroy Jim Crow, was not an impulsive or emotional response to a bus driver's orders. This plan, drawn up and discussed in church, NAACP and other organizational meetings in black communities around the country, required that conditions for the challenge of Jim Crow laws in the Deep South be precisely met: 1) appropriate person(s) to carry out plan, 2) scheduled for maximum effect, 3) witnesses present, 4)  Jim Crow law exposed, 5) civil rights activists across nation on alert, and 6) community cooperation enacted.

Rosa Parks was skillfully chosen to challenge Jim Crow. A daily bus rider, she knew her route and stops, who got on and off her bus, when and where. Other qualities making her a good candidate to challenge Jim Crow were her non-threatening, non-aggressive attitude, and her attractive, educated, articulate attributes. Further, with an understanding of nonviolent tactics, Parks could determine when the time was right to make a protest and control of her temper, acting not just for herself but on behalf of the larger cause of civil rights.

On December 1, 1955, Parks knew the time was right and she quietly accepted the cruelty that may lay ahead or even death. Through the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Parks established nonviolent standards for the next generation of activists, like Diane Nash's Freedom Riders and other 1960s civil rights movers in the Jim Crow South.

In a 1961 telephone conversation with John Seigenthaler, Assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Diane Nash said she and the Freedom Riders signed 'last wills and testaments' in preparation for trips on integrated Greyhound buses through the segregated South. Nash told Seigenthaler, "We know someone will be killed. but we cannot let violence overcome nonviolence." Nash was also a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organizer of civil rights protests in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and other states.

Between 1876, when Reconstruction ended, and 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, Alabama Jim Crow laws enforced segregation of public facilities and provided 'separate but equal' services and accommodations for black and other customers, clients, patrons, students and patients of color, leading to their inferior social status. Alabama policies required black bus riders to surrender their seats to provide seating for white riders as determined by bus drivers. If white riders were standing because the white section of the bus was filled, the driver ordered black riders to move from their black-designated seats.

The day Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat was not her first challenge of Jim Crow bus policy in Montgomery. In 1943 Parks had declined to board a bus through a rear door for black riders. Further, Parks was not the first black bus rider arrested for refusing to give up a seat to a white rider. Before Parks' arrest, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for the same charge on March 2, 1955.

“People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired,” Rosa Parks wrote in her autobiography, “but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Rosa Parks' non-response to the bus driver’s orders to move from her seat caused the bus driver to hail for police assistance. When Parks still refused to move, she was arrested, fingerprinted and fined fourteen dollars for disobeying the bus driver’s orders. Less than a week later, December 5, 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott officially started.

The day the boycott began, December 5, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected president of the new Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), formed to coordinate the Montgomery Bus Boycott and to arrange alternative transportation, local publicity and national media coverage. The MIA put up signs announcing that people who did not agree with bus policy should not ride the bus. With two-thirds of the riders being black, the NAACP was aware that the boycott would strike a serious financial blow to the bus system. From the moment the nonviolent protest began, the buses operated nearly empty.

People stayed off the buses, using carpools and walking to work, school and every other place they had previously ridden buses. Many lost their jobs for inability to get to work or were fired for boycott involvement. Many whites were against the boycott, which--if successful--would threaten racial 'status quo.' Not fully revealed, however, are white sympathizers providing boycotters transportation. Some say these seemingly generous actions were selfish on the part of white housewives who wanted to get their maids to work. Some of these women may have started out driving their maids, but ended up extending rides to black workers who were not itheir employees.

"The first thing that happened to whites like us who were sympathetic to the [Montgomery Bus Boycott] was that we lost our businesses...Now that's not nearly as bad as being lynched or killed or beaten up...But it is a terrible fear," said Alabama resident, Virginia Durr, quoted by Juan Williams in 'Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years 1954-1965."

Blacks and whites providing rides during the boycott were refused taxi permits and harassed for not having taxi permits by Ku Klux Klan members who were part of law enforcement. Identifying these drivers as boycott sympathizers, the Klan turned violent, bombing several homes, including that of Martin Luther King. With the world watching, non-ridership continued for 381 days until November 13, 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the unconstitutionality of Jim Crow laws against desegregation.

In his book, 'Stride Toward Freedom,' Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, "With a mixture of anxiety and hope, I read these words: 'The United States Supreme Court today affirmed a decision of a special three-judge U.S. District Court in declaring Alabama's state and local laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Supreme Court acted without listening to any argument; it simply said 'the motion to affirm is granted and the Judgment is affirmed. At this moment my heart began to throb with an inexpressible joy. The darkest hour of our struggle had indeed proved to be the first hour of victory."

Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was a hero, without whose bravery and commitment, U.S. race relations would not have progressed. However, Parks had help in changing life in the Jim Crow South. In the quest for education on civil rights, the involvement of churches, organizations and individuals--both black and white--must be examined. Many who began with one sentiment ended up with a totally different view of race.

For a closer look at the effects of the civil rights movement on southern society, educators and policymakers, read "Race Relations - Education is Key" at: and "Ann Richards, Thorny Rose of Texas'" at

© 2011 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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Sunny Nash is author of "Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s," chosen by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations; listed in Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies, Schomburg Center in New York; and recommended for Native American collections, Miami-Dade Public Library System, Florida. Nash has work in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West, Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, History of Black Photographers 1840 - Present; Ancestry; Companion to Southern Literature; Texas Through Women’s Eyes; Black Genesis; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature Journal; The Source: guidebook to American genealogy; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.
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