Sunday, December 1, 2013


December 1, 2013


Montgomery, Alabama (JFK+50) 58 years ago today, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks* was arrested here in Montgomery for violation of the city's segregation code, Chapter 6, Section 11.

 Rosa Parks and MLK
 Montgomery, AL (1955)
 US Information Agency Photo

Ms. Parks, on her way home from work, boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery at 6 p.m.  She sat five rows back in the first row reserved for African-Americans.

When the bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, bus driver James Blake ordered Ms. Parks and three other black passengers to give up their seats to the boarding white passengers.

While the other passengers followed Blake's directions,  Rosa Parks did not.

Rosa later recalled...

"When that white driver stepped back toward us...and ordered us out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night."

Mr. Blake called the police and Ms. Parks was arrested, taken to jail, and charged.  Ironically, it was the same driver who had put Rosa Parks off his bus in 1943.

When JFK+50 visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, we learned that Mrs. Park's action was not the first of its kind in the city and that she had training in non-violent protest. 

Rosa was trained at the Highlander Folk School** which specialized in the training of activists for worker's rights and later civil rights. The school was founded by Myles Horton and board members included Eleanor Roosevelt.

While Rosa Parks was "prepared" to do what she did, it was she who decided when it was time to do it.

That time came on the first day of December, 1955.

Rosa said after the years passed that some people claimed she was "tired" on that day, but, in her own words, she was just "tired of giving in."

             Cleveland Avenue Bus
               Henry Ford Museum
              Source: Eege Fot vum

Rosa Parks was found guilty of violating segregation laws, given a suspended sentence and fined $10 plus $4 court costs.

The arrest and sentencing of Rosa Parks led directly to establishment of the Montgomery Improvement Association by Rev. Ralph Abernathy and other ministers.  They chose Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its president.

One week later, Rev. King said...

"There comes a time that people get tired.  We...are tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression."

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was initiated.

Lasting 4 days short of a year, the action cost the bus company a great deal of money because most of their customers were black.  

The stand against segregation did not come without costs.  The homes of Dr. King and E.D. Nixon, head of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, were bombed.

Southern United States senators issued a manifesto opposing the Supreme Court decision to desegregate American schools.

The High Court, however, went on to declare segregation of public transportation in Montgomery unconstitutional.

Statue of Rosa Parks

US Capitol (2013)
Photo by Farragutful

*Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913.  She had to walk to her elementary school while fellow white students rode the bus. 

In 1955, she worked as a seamstress and was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.

Rosa was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999 as the 'Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.'  

She died at the age of 92 on Oct 24, 2005.

Bill Clinton Honors Rosa Parks

**Highlander Research and Education Center was founded as the Highlander Folk School in Grundy County, Tennessee in 1932.  During the 1950s, it became a training center for members of SNCC including Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette and others.

Having lost its charter, the school moved to Knoxville in 1961 where it operated for the next decade.

In 1971, the Center moved to its current location in New Market, Tennessee where its focus is now on issues of democratic participation and economic justice.

Highlander Center
New Market, TN.
Photo by John White (2008)

Highlander Center
New Market, TN.
Photo by John White (2008)


"We Shall Overcome:  The History of the Civil Rights Movement As It Happened," by Herb Boyd, Sourcebooks Inc., Naperville, IL, 2004.