Biography: Rosa Parks, Civil Rights Hero

Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and thus part of the civil rights movement. She had long resented the unfair treatment of blacks on the busses, andperformed this civil disobedience to make a statement.

Rosa Parks's story goes that she had been working hard all day as a seamstress in segregated Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955 she got into a bus, paid and sat down for the ride home. But a white man boarded after she did, and because there were no other seats available, he expected her to give him hers. Negroes, as African Americans were called back then, were expected to give up their seats to white people. It didn't matter if they'd been working hard all day or not.

The bus driver told Mrs. Parks to get up so the white man could sit down. She refused. She was promptly arrested. The black community immediately agreed to boycott the bus system, and three days later the boycott which changed the way blacks were treated in Alabama began. Martin Luther King, Jr. was given most of the credit for this act and his own historical course was set.

But that isn't all there is. Rosa Parks was not just an accidental heroine acting on behalf of her sore feet as much as her people. Rosa Parks was a seamstress, and she used to bus for transportation to her job. She'd been mistreated on Montgomery busses for years and she was tired of it. She had attended a seminar at Highlander Folk School for whites and blacks who wanted more equality. And when the white man and the bus driver ordered her to get up, she was prepared to refuse.

In those days, in addition to being expected to give up their seats to whites, a black person had to get in the front of the bus and pay, then get off and enter the bus through the back door. Sometimes the bus driver would take the money and leave the black would-be rider behind. If they weren't deferential enough, they were kicked off the bus.

Jo Ann Robinson was a professor at Alabama State College who was involved in civil rights work, particularly changing the bus policies. When she heard what happened to Mrs. Parks, she sent out 50,000 flyers recommending a boycott on Monday, December 5, 1955. The boycott went on for a solid year but was a huge success.

The Montgomery Improvement Association organized the strikes and chose Baptist minister, Martin Luther King, Jr. as president. The first to boycott were thousands of women who walked as much as twelve miles a day to and from work. The bus lines lost a lot of money as more and more blacks refused to ride the bus under segregated conditions.

The Supreme Court ruled on the Browder vs. Gayle case in November of 1956 that Alabama's state and city bus segregation policies were unconstitutional and the boycott ended.

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