February 4 is Rosa Parks Day, celebrating the birthday of the woman who inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott. By refusing to give up her seat on Dec. 1, 1955, she triggered one of the largest and most significant civil rights actions of the decade. The boycott also
When Parks boarded the bus in downtown Montgomery after a long day’s work as a department store seamstress, she had recently attended civil disobedience training. She took a seat in the first several rows of the section designated for “colored” passengers. The Montgomery city code stated that bus drivers had police officer power to enforce the public segregation laws. So, when the bus driver noticed that several white passengers did not have seats, he requested that Parks and three other black passengers stand up so that the white passengers could sit. Parks refused to move. Upon her refusal, the driver summoned the police, who arrested her for violating the city code. She was later taken to police headquarters and released on bail. Four days later at her trial, Parks had to pay a fine of $10 plus $4 in court costs when she was found guilty of disorderly contact and violating a local ordinance.
Rose Louise McCauley was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a carpenter. From an early age, she experienced deep seated racism, attended a segregated school system, witnessed the KKK march past her house, and was often bullied by the white children in her rural neighborhood.
In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, a barber and active member in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Their union signaled the beginning of her lifelong dedication to the civil rights movement. In 1943, she joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and became leader E.D. Nixon’s secretary. Prior to Parks’ bold move on December 1, 1955, other activists had already refused to acquiesce to bus segregation rules, beginning with Bayard Rustin in 1942.
Members of the 1956 lawsuit, Browder v. Gayle, were also unsuccessful. The NAACP believed that Parks would be an ideal citizen to also challenge the discriminatory Montgomery law.
The key was that Parks, through her work as a seamstress, had many friends and contacts in the white community who felt a personal responsibility when she was arrested. It was not just the oppressed Black population, of whom many had been arrested and fined for refusing to change seats. Prominent members of the white community who knew Parks through her sewing skills also objected to her arrest, giving her case a wider support though the city then had been available to earlier arrestees.
The boycott ended victoriously in December 1956, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a district court decision that had declared Montgomery’s system of segregated seating unconstitutional. Parks’ courage and quiet dignity were widely admired, and her example inspired others to undertake similar nonviolent resistance to legal discrimination against African Americans throughout the country, earning her the title “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Additional text by Molly Wicker/Trafficking Matters