Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.
- Use this primary source with the Jackie Robinson Narrative, the Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Montgomery Bus Boycott Narrative, The Little Rock Nine Narrative, and The Murder of Emmett Till Narrative to discuss the rise of the African American civil rights movement pre-1960.
On December 1, 1955, a tired Rosa Parks left work as a department store tailor’s assistant and planned to ride home on a city bus. She sat down between the “whites only” section in the front of the bus and the “colored” section in the back. Black riders only sat in this area if the back was filled. When a white man entered the crowded bus, the bus driver ordered four African American passengers to stand so the white passenger could sit. Parks refused and was arrested. Parks was an active participant in the civil rights movement for several years and was well trained in civil rights activism. She served as secretary of both the Montgomery and Alabama state NAACP and founded the youth council of the local NAACP. Her calm and resolute refusal to give up her seat led to a 13-month boycott that ended segregation on Montgomery city buses. The following is her description of her arrest from a 1956 radio interview.
- Who was the speaker in this source?
- What was the speaker’s relationship to the event?
- Who was the intended audience for the interview?
- Why do you think Mrs. Parks submitted to this interview?
|I left work on my way home, December 1, 1955, about 6:00 in the afternoon. I boarded the bus downtown Montgomery on Court Square. . . . When I got on the bus, the rear was filled with colored passengers, and they were beginning to stand. The seat I occupied was the first of the seats where the Negro passengers take as they—on this route. The driver noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers, and there would be two or three men standing. He looked back and asked that the seat where I had taken, along with three other persons: one in a seat with me and two across the aisle were seated. He demanded the seats that we were occupying. The other passengers there reluctantly gave up their seats. But I refused to do so.
|I want to make very certain that it is understood that I had not taken a seat in the white section, as has been reported in many cases. An article came out in the newspaper on Friday morning about the Negro woman overlooked segregation. She was seated in the front seat, the white section of the bus and refused to take a seat in the rear of the bus. That was the first newspaper account. The seat where I occupied, we were in the custom of taking this seat on the way home, even though at times on this same bus route, we occupied the same seat with whites standing, if their space had been taken up, the seats had been taken up. I was very much surprised that the driver at this point demanded that I remove myself from the seat.
|The driver said that if I refused to leave the seat, he would have to call the police. And I told him, “Just call the police.” He then called the officers of the law. They came and placed me under arrest, violation of the segregation law of the city and state of Alabama in transportation. I didn’t think I was violating any. I felt that I was not being treated right, and that I had a right to retain the seat that I had taken as a passenger on the bus. The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. They placed me under arrest. And I wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why I wasn’t, but I didn’t feel afraid. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama.
|nonviolent passive resistance(n):
unaggressive refusal to comply with a law that one believes is unjust, for the purpose of calling attention to that law
|. . . I was . . . bailed out shortly after the arrest. The trial was held December 5 on the next Monday. And the protest began from that day, and it is still continuing. And so, the case was appealed. From the time of the arrest on Thursday night . . . the word had gotten around over Montgomery of my arrest because of this incident. There were telephone calls from those who knew about it to others. The ministers were very much interested in it, and we had our meetings in the churches. And being the minority, we felt that nothing could be gained by violence or threats or belligerent attitude. We believed that more could be accomplished through the nonviolent passive resistance, and people just began to decide that they wouldn’t ride the bus on the day of my trial . . .
|And Monday morning, when the buses were out on the regular run, they remained empty. People were walking or getting rides in cars with people who would pick them up, as best they could. On Monday night, the mass meeting at the Hope Street Baptist Church had been called. And there were many thousand people there. . . .
|I was not the only person who had been mistreated and humiliated. I have been refused entrance on the buses because I would not pay my fare at the front and go around to the rear door to enter. That was the custom if the bus was crowded up to the point where the white passengers would start occupying. I hadn’t thought that I would be the person to do this. It hadn’t occurred to me. Others had gone through the same experience, some even worse experience than mine, and they all felt that the time had come, that they should decide that we would have to stop supporting the bus company until we were given better service. And the first day of remaining off the bus had been so successful. It was organized, in that we wouldn’t ride the bus until our request had been granted.
- Where did Mrs. Parks sit when she boarded the bus?
- Why did the bus driver ask Mrs. Parks to give up her seat?
- What misconception does Mrs. Parks attempt to explain about her arrest that was printed in the newspaper?
- What was her reaction to being asked to give up her seat?
- What was the reaction of the bus driver when Mrs. Parks refused to leave her seat? How did she respond to him?
- What crime was Mrs. Parks charged with when the police arrived and arrested her?
- Why, in her own words, did Mrs. Parks believe she should not have had to give up her seat on the bus?
- Explain how the protest movement began to take shape.
- Why did the protestors believe nonviolent passive resistance was the best way to protest against Mrs. Parks’s arrest?
- Describe the treatment black passengers had received when boarding buses in Montgomery.
- What did the organizers of the protest decide to do to force the bus company and the city to change their policies?
Historical Reasoning Questions
- Compare the tactics used by Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott with the tactics used by earlier activist Ida B. Wells. How were each important milestones in the fight for justice for African Americans? (See the Ida B. Wells and the Campaign against Lynching Narrative).
- For Montgomery bus riders who had no other transportation, boycotting the bus created challenges to their daily routines. What were those challenges and how would you have overcome those challenges?
- Was the Montgomery Bus Boycott successful? Explain. What role did the philosophy of nonviolent resistance play in this success?
Rosa Parks’s Account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott https://www.democracynow.org/2005/10/25/rosa_parks_1913_2005_we_air