December 1st, 1955

Rosa Parks Arrested for Violating Laws Mandating Racial Segregation on Buses

On December 1, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress and activist Rosa Parks was arrested, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most well-known campaigns of the civil rights movement. Less well known is that Parks's work for racial justice long preceded her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. She was very active in the local chapter of the NAACP, having joined as the chapter’s only woman member in 1943, and served as both the youth leader and secretary. Parks frequently traveled throughout Alabama to interview black people who had suffered racial terror, violence, or other injustice. In 1944, she investigated an Abbeville, Alabama, gang-rape of a young black woman and joined with other civil rights activists in the area to launch an unsuccessful campaign to have the white men responsible prosecuted for the assault.

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks began her bus ride home from work sitting in the “colored section.” Montgomery’s segregated bus service designated separate seating areas for black and white passengers; during peak operating hours, if the white seating area became full, the bus driver could expand its boundaries and request that African Americans stand to relinquish their seats to whites. While blacks were not legally obligated to comply, city bus drivers were notorious for their hostile treatment of black riders and their requests were rarely refused.

As more white passengers boarded, the bus driver asked Parks and three other seated African Americans to give up their seats to whites. Parks refused and was eventually arrested. She later recalled that she had refused to stand, not because she was physically tired but because she was tired of giving in. On the night of her arrest, local activists began organizing what would become the Montgomery Bus Boycott.