Political and Social Movements

The Civil Rights Movement

How did the civil rights movement begin?

It began on Thursday, December 1, 1955, as Rosa Parks (1913-), 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. But 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, she refused. She was arrested and sent to jail.

Montgomery’s black leaders had already been discussing staging a protest against racial segregation on the 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 buses: 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 movement.


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