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Exhibition Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words

The Bus Boycott

“During the Montgomery bus boycott, we came together and remained unified for 381 days. It has never been done again. The Montgomery boycott became the model for human rights throughout the world.”

When Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, she was mentally prepared for the moment. Earlier that summer, she attended a workshop on implementing integration at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. Also at that time, the Montgomery NAACP had been looking for a test case to challenge the constitutionality of Alabama state bus segregation laws. To coincide with her trial on December 5, 1955, the Women’s Political Council initiated a one-day citywide bus boycott. That evening, E. D. Nixon and other black leaders called a mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church and voted to extend the bus boycott under the direction of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Rosa, discharged from Montgomery Fair department store, began setting up rides and garnering public support for the boycott and the NAACP. For three hundred and eighty-one days, African American citizens of Montgomery walked, carpooled, and took taxis rather than city buses. They endured bad weather, harassment, intimidation, and the loss of their jobs. On February 1, 1956, the MIA filed a lawsuit, Browder v. Gayle, in federal district court challenging the constitutionality of bus segregation ordinances. On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling that bus segregation violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, which led to the successful end of the bus boycott on December 20, 1956.