On 1st December 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama an African-American civil rights activist named Rosa Louise McCauley Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger and was arrested for civil disobedience. Though she did not know it at the time, her act of defiance became a catalyst to the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and a prominent symbol for the modern Civil Rights Movement. The U.S. Congress called Rosa Parks “the first lady of civil rights”, and “the mother of the freedom movement”.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African-American woman who worked as a seamstress, boarded this Montgomery City bus to go home from work. On this bus on that day, Rosa Parks initiated a new era in the American quest for freedom and equality.
She sat near the middle of the bus, just behind the 10 seats reserved for whites. Soon all of the seats in the bus were filled. When a white man entered the bus, the driver, James Blake (following the standard practice of segregation) insisted that all four blacks sitting just behind the white section give up their seats so that the man could sit there. Mrs. Parks, who was an active member of the local NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], quietly refused to give up her seat.
Her action was spontaneous and not pre-meditated, although her previous civil rights involvement and strong sense of justice were obvious influences. She was arrested and convicted of violating the laws of segregation.
At the same time, local civil rights activists initiated a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. The boycott began 5 December, the day of Parks’ trial. In cities across the South, segregated bus companies were daily reminders of the inequities of American society. Since African-Americans made up about 75 percent of the riders in Montgomery, the boycott posed a serious economic threat to the company and a social threat to white rule in the city. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the boycott, the beginning of modern Civil Rights Movement in USA.
In the South, city buses were lightning rods for civil rights activists. It took someone with the courage and character of Rosa Parks to strike with lightning. And it required the commitment of the entire African-American community to fan the flames ignited by that lightning into the fires of the civil rights revolution.
Parks’ act of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation.
Thank you Rosa Parks for staying seated 57 years ago today!