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Rosa Parks refuses to change her seat

This Day in World History

December 1, 1955

Rosa Parks refuses to change her seat

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to move—and became the mother of the civil rights movement.

In 1955, strict segregation laws separated African Americans and whites in public settings across the South, including Parks’s home town, Montgomery, Alabama. That December evening, returning home from work, Parks sat with three other African Americans in a row just behind the fourteen whites in the front of the bus. Because the bus was full, a white man had to stand when he entered the bus. Under the South’s Jim Crow laws, whites sat and African Americans stood. The bus driver told Parks and the other three blacks to move to the back of the bus—the black section. The other three did, but Parks refused. The driver insisted, and she refused again.  Faced with continued refusal, he used his powers under a city ordinance to arrest her. The driver summoned the police, and Parks spent the night in jail.

The arrest galvanized Montgomery’s African Americans. The local chapter of the NAACP had long resented the segregated buses and the drivers’ treatment of blacks; now they had a chance to act. The next day, a women’s council called for a boycott of the city bus system. African Americans by the thousands complied.  By December 5, a new group—the Montgomery Improvement Association—was formed to coordinate the boycott. Inspired by young clergyman Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery’s African Americans kept up their boycott for more than a year, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was one of the early triumphs of the civil rights movement. Parks later admitted her surprise: “I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to the segregation laws in the South.”

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