Today in 1955: Rosa Parks Arrested

On December 1, 1955; Rosa Parks was arrested for breaking an Alabama law requiring black passengers to give up their seats to whites when the bus was full. Blacks also had to sit in the back, behind all white passengers. Her arrest sparked a boycott of the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama, that lasted 381 days. The arrest and boycott also led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted after her arrest

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted after her arrest

Rosa Parks was active in her local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP sought to challenge segregation on public transportation but Parks’ arrest was not planned. Previously, another African American woman had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus, but the NAACP believed the unmarried teenaged mother wouldn’t look proper as the face of the struggle to end segregation.

A one day boycott of African Americans began on Parks’ court date of December 5. Black people constituted 70 percent of the transit system’s customers so the buses ran mostly empty that day.

The overwhelming success of the boycott inspired further sustained action. Religious and political leaders met at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC). Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was appointed the leader of the organization. For the next year, they coordinated the bus boycott. A carpool system of approximately 300 cars was created to assist those boycotting get around town. Others walked for miles for more than a year to get to and from work.

During the boycott, the homes of King and another leader were bombed. Montgomery officials indicted more than 80 boycott leaders under a 1921 law prohibiting conspiracies that interfered with lawful business. King was tried and convicted on the charge and ordered to pay $500 or serve 386 days in jail. Despite the harassment, the boycott continued.

One year later, in 1956: the US Supreme Court banned segregation on public transportation and the boycott in Montogomery ended. Rosa Parks moved to Detroit, Michigan, and worked doe Congressman John Conyers. She earned several national awards and was granted twenty honorary doctorates from universities around the world. Parks passed in 2005 at the age of ninety-two and became the first woman to lie in honor in the US Capitol Rotunda.


Library of Congress.

Stanford University. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education


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