Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

A Bus Rider's Defiance

Dec. 1, 1955

Rosa Parks was tired after a hard day as a seamstress in the basement of the Montgomery Fair department store in Montgomery, Ala., and she had to run a youth-group meeting later that night for her local N.A.A.C.P., which had been trying to find a way to protest the city's segregation laws. Still, Parks didn't get right on the bus when she left work that Thursday evening. The bus stop was crowded, so she headed to a drugstore to shop for an electric heating pad, thinking she would be able to get a seat home if she waited a bit. When she finally deposited her 10 cent fare on the Cleveland Avenue bus, she found a seat in the first row of the "colored" section in the back. But after a few stops, the driver ordered her to get up so a white passenger could sit down.

Parks refused, and the police were called to take her to jail. Two hours after her arrest, she was released on $100 bail. By midnight, a plan had been hatched for a citywide bus boycott, which a young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. would later be elected to direct. The boycott lasted 381 days, until the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses was illegal; its success ignited the modern civil rights movement. "When I declined to give up my seat, it was not that day or bus in particular," Parks later told her biographer Douglas Brinkley. "I just wanted to be free, like everybody else."