Today marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was arrested December 1st, 1955, for violating segregation laws when she refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. The move sparked a one-year boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. We hear some of the voices of people who were outside Parks’ memorial in Washington DC last month. [includes rush transcript]
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was arrested December 1st 1955 for violating segregation laws when she refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.
Civil rights leaders called for a one-day boycott of the city’s segregated buses days later. On December 5th, ninety percent of Montgomery’s black citizens stayed off the buses. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. led the boycott that stretched on for over a year. 50,000 boycotters carpooled, used church vehicles and walked to work for 381 days.
The bus boycott ended soon after the US Supreme Court ruled the bus segregation unconstitutional in June 1956.
Rosa Parks became known as the "mother of the civil rights movement." She died last month at the age of 92 and was the first woman to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol.
Amy Goodman went to the Rosa Parks memorial service along with Democracy Now! producers Yoruba Richen and Elizabeth Press last month in Washington D.C. and interviewed some of those outside.
AMY GOODMAN: I went with my colleagues, Yoruba Richen and Elizabeth Press, of Democracy Now! to Washington for Rosa Parks’s memorial service in Washington, D.C. Thousands of people crowded into the Metropolitan Church, and thousands were outside. We spoke to some of them.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I have my own little piece to connect with her act of courage. When I was 17 years old in 1941, on my way back to college, I boarded a Greyhound bus in my little village in the northern neck of Virginia, and I sat in the second seat from the front. We had not gone five miles before the bus driver stopped. Anticipating this might happen, I had opened my book to read. The bus driver rose from his seat, came, stood over my seat and said to me, "You’re in the wrong seat." I did not look up from my book. He said, "You belong in the back of the bus." My eyes were fastened on the pages of my book, and I was terrified.
I knew not what was going to happen next. However, the bus driver continued his command. He said, "You must move to the back of the bus," and reinforced it by saying, "The ICC ruling does not affect your journey, because this bus does not go interstate." I did not look at him; I read my book. He, realizing that I was not going to respond to his order, made a decision. He turned on his heels, walked back to his seat on the bus, nothing showing other than the crimson of his neck, went on to his destination, and there I was.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you see keeping your seat on the bus as the defining issue then?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I had long decided that I was not going to allow anyone else to define who I am. I grew up in a home where people — my parents were on the wall for justice all their lives. My father was a civil rights activist before I was born. He was a voter registration leader in the State of Virginia, when poll tax prevented black people from voting. And he was determined, along with my mother’s help, to do everything he could to make sure that all these barriers that deny people their humanity, basic humanity, would be broken down. That’s what we’re talking about. We still have many barriers. However, we’re working on them. As long as we are aware that the struggle continues, things will get better.
HANK WALLACE: I’m Hank Wallace, and my father did a reverse Rosa Parks in 1944, 11 years before Rosa Parks kept her seat in the bus. In the Navy in segregated Miami, my father, Irving Wallace, an optometrist in the Navy, would occasionally ride in the back of the segregated bus in order to make the point that he shouldn’t get any special privileges because of his being white.
JAMES WASHINGTON: My name is James Washington, from Metro Bus.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us how old this bus is and why it’s here today?
JAMES WASHINGTON: This bus is year 1957, and this is for Rosa Parks’s funeral today. I’m really proud to be here, really proud to be here today.
JACQUELINE WILLIAMS: My name is Jacqueline Williams.
AMY GOODMAN: And why are you here?
JACQUELINE WILLIAMS: I’m here, because my daughter, she begged me, absolutely begged me to bring her here, because she loves Rosa Parks.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your name?
TERESA WILLIAMS: Teresa.
AMY GOODMAN: And how old are you?
TERESA WILLIAMS: Ten.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re ten years old. Why are you here? Why did you beg your mother to take you here?
TERESA WILLIAMS: Because I like Rosa Parks.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you like about her?
TERESA WILLIAMS: I like that she was strong, and now since she did what she did, now we can sit wherever we want in the buses.
AMY GOODMAN: People remembering Rosa Parks. Today is the 50th anniversary of the day — December 1, 1955 — she sat down on that bus and refused to stand up for a white man.