December 1, 1955 – Start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

On this day in history, civil rights activist Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Taylor Branch, author of a masterful three-part series on the life and times of Martin Luther King, Jr., provides the details of what happened:

Rosa Parks left the Montgomery Fair department store late in the afternoon for her regular bus ride home. All thirty-six seats of the bus she boarded were soon filled, with twenty-two Negroes seated from the rear and fourteen whites from the front. Driver J.P. Blake, seeing a white man standing in the front of the bus, called out for the four passengers on the row just behind the whites to stand up and move to the back. Nothing happened. Blake finally had to get out of the driver’s seat to speak more firmly to the four Negroes. ‘You better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats,’ he said. At this, three of the Negroes moved to stand in the back of the bus, but Parks responded that she was not in the white section and didn’t think she ought to move. She was in no-man’s-land. Blake said that the white section was where he said it was, and he was telling Parks that she was in it. As he saw the law, the whole idea of no-man’s-land was to give the driver some discretion to keep the races out of each other’s way. He was doing just that. When Parks refused again, he advised her that the same city law that allowed him to regulate no-man’s-land also gave him emergency police power to enforce the segregation codes. He would arrest Parks himself if he had to. Parks replied that he should do what he had to do; she was not moving. She spoke so softly that Blake would not have been able to hear her above the drone of normal bus noise. But the bus was silent. Blake notified Parks that she was officially under arrest. She should not move until he returned with the regular Montgomery police.”

Don’t miss what happened next. This is a great story, about which every American should be aware, in a wonderful book series.

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