On December 1, 1955, African-American woman Rosa Parks was arrested for her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger.
In 1900, Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance which segregated bus seating by race. The original ordinance stated that no one would ever be required to move or stand, but bus officials in Montgomery soon started the practice of making African Americans move when all the seats meant for whites were filled. Even though 75% of bus riders were black, they were required to sit at the rear of the bus, stand, or leave the bus if there were not enough seats provided for whites.
Parks first encountered bus driver James F. Blake in 1943 when she was asked to follow rules and enter the bus through the back door after she had already paid her bus fare. After Parks exited the bus, Blake drove away before she could get back on, leaving her to walk home in the rain.
Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery bus after working all day on December 1, 1955. After paying her fare, she took a seat in the first row labeled, “Colored.” The busdriver (who was once again James F. Blake) noticed that some whites were standing and moved the sign back and demanded the blacks seated now in front of the sign, including Parks, move to make room for the white passengers. The three other black passengers seated in these seats complied with Blake’s demands, but Parks refused and was subsequently arrested.
After spending a day in jail, Parks was bailed out by a friend and the president of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, Edgar Nixon. Nixon saw Parks’ case as an opportunity to fight back against the segregation and unfair treatment of African Americans who use the Montgomery public transportation system. Just three days later on December 4, 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was announced with the Women’s Political Council being the first group to officially endorse the boycott.
While Parks was being tried for disorderly conduct the next day, members of the WPC distributed 35,000 leaflets asking African Americans of Montgomery to boycott riding the bus. Some commuters carpooled or took black-operated cabs, while the rest of the commuters walked – some walking up to 20 miles to get to work. The day proved to be a successful first day of boycotting, and the Montgomery Improvement Association was formed afterward, electing a young Martin Luther King, Jr. as their president.
African American leaders of the city decided that Parks would be the perfect plaintiff to fight fight Alabama segregation laws because she had a stable income, husband, and was savvy in political matters. The black community of Montgomery continued their boycott for 381 while Parks’ case was slowed down in appeals through the Alabama court system. The U.S. Supreme Court case Browder v. Gayle finally ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional and the city was forced to repeal its former segregation law.
Parks became an important figure in the African American Civil Rights Movement and brought international attention to the plight of African Americans in the United States at this time. She is remembered and celebrated to this day with both the day of her arrest and her birthday officially becoming known as “Rosa Parks Day” in the U.S. states of California and Ohio.