By Ava Lee-Green

On this day 68 years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. This act of defiance was pivotal in the bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Civil Rights Movement on the national level. 

Rosa Parks

Photo by Gene Herrick for the Associated Press; restored by Adam Cuerden. Public domain.

An Alabama native born in 1913, Parks was not unfamiliar with racism. During the turn of the century, the Jim Crow laws were established, which racially segregated all areas of life: schools, drinking fountains, restaurants, bathrooms, and buses. In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This was her introduction to advocacy. 

She became active in the civil rights movement in 1943 when she joined the local NAACP chapter and became secretary for the organization. Using her position over the next five years, she advocated for justice to be served against white men who had raped Black women. During the next ten years, she continued fighting for equal rights, including becoming a member of the League of Women Voters. In her autobiography, she recalls being furious about the lack of justice following the lynching of Emmitt Till. In fact, just four days before she refused to give up her bus seat, she attended a meeting where she learned that Till’s murderers had been acquitted.

“No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” – Rosa Parks

December 1, 1955

As noted above, public buses were racially segregated such that white people sat in the front while Black people were forced to sit in the back. If a white person entered a full bus, a Black person was expected to give up their seat. 

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded the Montgomery City Lines bus in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. A few stops later, the bus was full and people in the ‘white section’ were forced to stand. The bus driver, noticing this, stopped the bus and demanded that Parks, along with three other Black people, give up her seat. 

"When that white driver stepped back toward us when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night." – Rosa Parks

But Parks would not give her seat up. After arguing with the bus driver, she was arrested, convicted of disorderly conduct, and forced to pay $14 ($153 in 2022).  She appealed her conviction, which challenged the legality of racial segregation. On the day of her trial, the Women’s Political Council, in collaboration with the NAACP, organized a city-wide bus boycott in support of Parks. In total, the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for 381 days. 

Legacy

Rosa Parks in 1997. Photo by John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com via Wikimedia Commons

Following her refusal to give up her seat on the bus, Rosa Parks became an icon for the Civil Rights Movement. After moving to Michigan, she continued to advocate for racial equality, including establishing the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation for college students, and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which runs the “Pathways to Freedom” tours to teach young people about civil rights and the Underground Railroad.

The US Congress has honored her as "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement". Some of her other awards include her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Upon her death in 2005, her casket was brought to Washington D.C. to be honored. She was the first woman to ever lie in honor in the rotunda of the US Capitol. 

Her legacy has continued. Her defiance on the bus that day continues to inspire many to fight for freedom and equality.


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