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65 years ago this week, Rosa Parks ignited the civil rights movement by sitting down

Parks' arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by Black people which led to a Supreme Court ruling that desegregated public transportation in Montgomery.

65 years ago this week, Rosa Parks ignited the civil rights movement by sitting down
Cover Image Source: A trolley passes the site where civil rights icon Rosa Parks was arrested December 1, 1955, for not giving up her bus seat to a white man on October 28, 2005, in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

65 years ago, on December 1, 1955, a simple yet brave act of defiance by a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, paved the way for the civil rights movement that changed the course of American history. "Negro jailed here for 'overlooking' bus segregation," read a headline innocuously buried on the bottom of page 9 of The Montgomery Advertiser the following day. Little did the publication know that the five paragraphs describing Rosa Parks' arrest for refusing to move to the back of a city bus would cement her place in history as a civil rights icon.



According to USA Today, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was on her way home from work that evening when the historical events unfolded. Seated in the front of the section for Black people, she was one of the Black passengers whom bus driver J.F. Blake told to move to the back of the bus "to equalize the seating." He was able to do so due to Montgomery giving police powers to bus drivers to enforce segregation. Blake demanded that she move so a White male passenger could have her seat. Parks refused to give up her seat, and the police arrested her under Jim Crow laws for "ignoring a bus driver who directed her to sit in the rear of the bus."



Over the years, the story of the day's events claimed that Parks didn't follow Blake's instructions because she was physically tired. However, she herself later clarified that it was exhaustion from experiencing racism and not physical weariness that prompted her to stay in her seat. Parks and Blake shared history; they'd had an encounter 12 years prior to that December evening in 1955 when the bus driver stopped Parks from entering the front of his bus. Although the seamstress was active in both the NAACP as the secretary of the Alabama and Montgomery chapters and part of the Montgomery Improvement Association, she explained that her arrest wasn't planned.



"I got on it to go home," Parks reportedly told The Advertiser years later. According to CNN, four days after her arrest, the Tuskegee native was convicted of disorderly conduct. On December 4, she made the front page of the publication after thousands of letters were distributed calling on Black riders to boycott the bus system. Although it was initially supposed to last just a day, the boycott organized by then-26-year-old Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, lasted for 381 days.



By December 6, the boycott had taken over much of The Advertiser's front page and covered Parks' five-minute court appearance where she was fined $14 for violating a state segregation law. Three days later, the publication reported that King spoke for boycotters in a meeting with bus officials where he asked for "first come-first served" seating, with White citizens still loading into the front and Black passengers in the rear. He also sought the hiring of Black drivers and more courtesy from the drivers. When no agreement was reached on the terms, the boycott lasted until December 20, 1956, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling desegregated public transportation in Montgomery.



Although Park's arrest made her a pivotal symbol in America's civil rights movement, she wasn't the first Black bus rider to get arrested for not leaving a bus seat in Montgomery. Nine months prior to Park's arrest, a 15-year-old pregnant teen named Claudette Colvin had done the same thing. However, the NAACP didn't see her as someone movement could be rallied around. Parks went on to be honored with the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, Spingarn Medal by the NAACP, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1966. She passed away in Detroit on October 24, 2005.


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