Today we will visit with Rosa Louise McCauley Parks who was widely recognized as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” because she refused to give up her seat to a White man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. While not the first black person to refuse to give up their seat on a Montgomery bus, she became the face of the Civil Rights movement due to her involvement in the NAACP with her husband Robert Parks.
On Thursday evening December 1, 1955, after a long day of work as a seamstress for a Montgomery, Alabama, department store, Rosa Parks boards a city bus to go home.
Tired as she is, Mrs. Parks walks past the first few — mostly empty — rows of seats marked “Whites Only.” It’s against the law for an African American like her to sit in these seats. She finally settles for a spot in the middle of the bus. Black people are allowed to sit in this section as long as no white person is standing. Though Rosa Parks hates the segregation laws, and has been fighting for civil rights at the NAACP for more than 10 years, until today she has never been one to break rules.
The bus continues along its route. After several more stops the bus is full. The driver notices that all the seats in the “Whites Only” section are now taken, and that more white people have just climbed aboard. He orders the people in Mrs. Parks’s row to move to the back of the bus, where there are no open seats. No one budges at first. But when the driver barks at the black passengers a second time, they all get up. . . except for Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks has finally had enough of being treated as a second-class citizen. As an African American, she has put up with terrible treatment on city buses, as well as in stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places for years. She is tired of it. In fact, she remembers that twelve years earlier this very same bus driver made her get off the bus and enter through the rear door.
When the driver continues shouting at her to move, Rosa Parks decides that she is not going to take it anymore. She simply says no, and refuses to get up from her seat.
The angry bus driver puts on the emergency brake, gets out of his seat and marches over to Mrs. Parks. He demands that she move to the back of the bus. When she doesn’t, he leaves the bus and returns with a policeman. Mrs. Parks is promptly arrested for violating segregation laws.
Upon hearing of Rosa Parks’s arrest, Mr. E.D. Nixon, a friend and longtime civil rights leader, posts her bail. Nixon believes that the Montgomery African-American community must respond. Although Rosa Parks is not the first African American to be treated unfairly, he is determined to try and make her the last.
The next day, Friday, December 2, E.D. Nixon calls a meeting of black leaders to discuss how to fight bus segregation.
Knowing that the city bus system depends heavily on the African-American community, the black leaders agree to call a boycott of all city buses on Monday, December 5. A new and popular minister in Montgomery by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. is chosen to lead the boycott. By Friday evening the news of the upcoming boycott has spread throughout the city.
On Monday morning, December 5, King and the other leaders wait nervously at a bus stop to see whether their plan will work. To their relief and surprise, bus after bus rolls by with no African Americans aboard. United in protest, boycotters choose instead to walk, take carpools, pedal bicycles, and even ride mules to get to work instead of board the buses.
That same day Rosa Parks goes to court with her lawyer. The judge finds her guilty of breaking a city segregation law and fines her $14. Declaring that the law is unjust, Rosa Parks’s lawyer says he will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Inspired by the boycott’s success, thousands of people gather in a Montgomery church on the evening of December 5 to listen to their new leader, Dr. King.
In a spellbinding speech, King explains why the boycott must continue. “There comes a time,” he says, “that people get tired. We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us for so long, that we are tired, tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression.” But above all, King asks that the protesters fight without violence. In response, the crowd rise to their feet. Thunderous applause fills the air.
Leaving the church that night, the people are as determined as ever to keep the boycott going. They have three simple demands:
1. Change the law that says African-American passengers must give up their seats to white passengers.
2. Bus drivers must be courteous to all riders.
3. Hire African-American bus drivers.
Though the demands are modest, city commissioners and the bus company still refuse to budge. Instead of weakening the boycotters’ determination, the city’s refusal only pushes the protesters to demand an end to bus segregation altogether.
The bus boycott continues. Slowly but surely the bus company begins to lose money — 75 percent of its riders are black and all have joined the boycott. Nevertheless, the company doesn’t change its segregation policies. Executives are convinced that the protesters — who are mostly poor and supporting large families — can’t afford to miss work and will be back on the buses soon.
To their surprise and dismay, as days turn into weeks, Montgomery’s African Americans adjust to finding other means of transportation.
Eventually the bus company is forced to cut back on the number of buses serving the city. It also raises the price of a ride from ten to fifteen cents. Because the protesters are now shopping closer to home, the white owners of downtown shops are starting to lose money. Angry and frustrated, some of the white people of Montgomery begin to harass and threaten anyone involved with the boycott. The protesters stay calm, resist using violence, and continue to follow the guidance of their leader, Dr. King. They will fight this battle using nonviolent tactics no matter how much they are provoked.
Harassment grows worse as the boycott continues. Protesters receive threatening phone calls and tickets for trivial violations; their homes are vandalized.
The violence reaches new heights when one day, while Dr. King is at a church meeting, a bomb explodes at his home. His wife, Coretta Scott King, their two-month-old baby, Yolanda, and a friend are inside. Dr. King rushes home as soon as he hears the news. Upon arriving he learns that no one has been hurt. But supporters are crowding around his house. They are furious and ready to fight. King tells them not to fight. “We cannot solve this problem with retaliatory violence,” King tells the crowd calmly. “We must meet violence with nonviolence.”
The bombing not only fails to stop the protesters, but it unites them and makes them stronger. Finally, almost one year after Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat, the Supreme Court rules — on November 13, 1956 — that Montgomery’s segregation laws are unconstitutional. Although the boycott wouldn’t have been successful without the unified effort of Montgomery’s 17,000 African Americans, no one will forget Rosa Parks, the brave woman who led the way.
The very next day, Rosa Parks, along with E.D. Nixon and Martin Luther King, Jr., board a city bus. Proudly, Rosa Parks takes a seat right up front.
Thanks for your attention.