Updated Dec. 1, 2023 at 12:20 p.m.
Rosa Parks became known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights movement,” beginning with a single act of defiance on a city bus on this day 68 years ago.
What happened when Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat?
While coming back from work in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, 42 at the time, refused to give up her seat for a white man in a city bus. The driver of the bus, a man named James F. Blake, demanded that she vacate a row of four seats in the "colored" section to let a White passenger sit, since the "White" section had already filled up.
She was arrested and briefly jailed for not complying with the city’s ordinance according to which Black people had to sit at the back of the bus and leave their seat to Whites. Her action set off a boycott of the city’s bus system.
What was the Montgomery bus boycott?
After Rosa Parks’ arrest, a local boycott of city buses was organized by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to protest segregated seating. The action lasted from December 5 1955 to December 20 1956, with about 40,000 Black people joining the movement. To support the boycott, Black taxi drivers only charged 10 cents per ride and carpools were organized across the city.
After 13 months of protests which brought national and international attention to Montgomery, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. The boycott also saw the birth of two prominent figures in the Civil Rights movement: Martin Luther King Jr., MIA’s president who then led national actions against segregation, and Rosa Parks, whose initial spark prompted a national movement. In 1999 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her lifelong activism.