December 1st, 1955: Rosa Parks arrested for refusing to give up seat on bus
63 years ago today, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. Her decision to sit down for her rights sparked the beginnings of the American Civil Rights movement as we know it.
Rosa Parks’ early life
Rosa McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. At 11, the family moved to Montgomery, where she attended high school and eventually met and married Raymond Parks, a self-educated man and long-time member of the NAACP.
Over time, Raymond and Rosa became respected members of Montgomery’s African-American community, but life for the pair was full of frustrations. Jim Crow laws ensured that they were constantly treated as second class citizens, relegated to inferior schools, libraries, eating establishments, and more.
On December 1, 1955, despite the fact that she was properly seated in the colored section of the bus, driver James F. Blake demanded that Rosa move to accommodate a white passenger whose own section was full. Contrary to popular belief, Rosa Parks was fully capable of getting up and moving out of her seat. She chose not to. Sick of having to make sacrifices simply because she was black, she decided to take a stand.
In the middle of the crowded bus, Rosa was arrested. Police levied a small fine and jailed the activist for a brief period.
Of that fateful day, Parks stated, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true,” Parks said in her 1992 book, Rosa Parks: My Story. “I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
The beginnings of a revolution
Although Rosa was not the first person arrested for refusing to give her seat on a bus, the NAACP decided she was the right one to be the face of the Montgomery bus boycott. When she went to court, the group arranged for a one-day boycott of passenger buses. This later led to a more extensive boycott that lasted 381 days.
The Montgomery Improvement Association chose the then-unknown Martin Luther King Jr. as their leader in the protest. Even though Parks was fired from her job and King’s home was attacked, the boycott was a huge success in large part because of their refusal to give up.