Civil Rights and Protests
How did the modern Civil Rights Movement begin?
On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa McCauley Parks (1913–2005), a seamstress who worked for a downtown department store in Montgomery, Alabama, made her way home on the Cleveland Avenue bus. Parks was seated in the first row that was designated for blacks. The white rows in the front of the bus soon filled up. When Parks was asked to give up her seat so that a white man could sit down, she refused. She was arrested and sent to jail.
Montgomery’s black leaders had discussed staging a protest against racial segregation on city buses. They soon organized, with Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) as their leader. Beginning on December 5, 1955, thousands of black people refused to ride the city bus: The Montgomery Bus Boycott had begun. It lasted more than a year—382 days—and ended only when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on the buses was unconstitutional. The protesters and civil rights activists had emerged the victors in this—their first and momentous effort to end segregation and discrimination in the United States.
Parks, who lost her job as a result of the arrest, later explained that she had acted on her own beliefs that she was being unfairly treated. But in so doing Parks had taken a stand and had given rise to a powerful, effective, and historic movement.