February 4, 2015 is Rosa Parks Day. The day honors her civil rights involvement, specifically her refusal to give up her bus seat. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs. Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger in the colored section after the white section was filled.
After the 1955 Montgomery bus incident, Mrs. Parks became known as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.” February 4 was chosen as the day of her commemoration because it was her birthday. However, sometimes she’s celebrated on state level on December 1, the anniversary of the bus incident that made her a household name.
Read on to learn about the celebration and how it came to be.
1. She Wasn’t the First Black Person to Refuse her Bus Seat to a White Person
The famous incident involving Mrs. Parks occurred on December 1, 1995 in Montgomery, Alabama.
As the story goes, Mrs. Parks (42 at the time) had worked all day and boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus around 6 P.M. in downtown Montgomery to head home. She paid her fare to the bus driver, James F. Blake, and took an empty seat. Her seat was in the first row of seats designated for blacks, which began in the middle of the bus. In front of her were the seats reserved for whites. The white section was full.
There was a movable sign designating where the white row ended and the black row began. When more white people got on the bus, Mr. Blake got up and moved the “colored seating” sign behind Mrs. Parks and four other black people, demanding that they give up their seats so that the white passengers could sit.
The three men complied with Mr. Blake, but Mrs. Parks did not.
Mrs. Parks did move, but just towards the window seat, not to the reassigned colored section. Mr. Blake then threatened her with calling the police to which Mrs. Parks replied, “You may do that.”
A city ordinance had been in place in Montgomery since 1900 that segregated bus passengers by race.
Mrs. Parks was arrested for breaking this ordinance.
However, Mrs. Parks was not the first person to break such laws. Others had already done so, and there was even an ongoing court case about bus segregation at the time called Browder v. Gayle. Claudette Colvin had already made the news.
But Mrs. Parks’ incident was hand-picked by the NAACP because they felt it would resonate best with the public.
2. She Started the Montgomery Bus Boycott
What Mrs. Parks and the NAACP didn’t know is that her bus incident would become as explosive and empowering as it did.
One of the key civil rights manifested from Mrs. Parks’ eventual court appearance and fine: the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
In summary, African-Americans in Montgomery refused to take the city bus to work and instead depended on car pools and their own two feet. It severely hurt the Montgomery economy. It was one of the first civil rights movements championed by relative newcomer, Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. King helped found the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which eventually helped to push along a federal lawsuit where separate but equal became unconstitutional.
As the federal case wound on, MIA attorneys had their hands full staving off attempts in state courts by the city to end the boycott, including the prosecution of boycott leaders for violating the state’s anti-boycott law and an effort to enjoin the operation of the MIA’s car pool. On Nov. 13, the day the city got a state court injunction to shut down the car pool, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case. As soon as new mass meetings could be arranged, several thousands blacks voted to end the boycott when the high court’s enforcement order was served. That occurred on Dec. 20, 1956, and black Montgomerians — led by King — returned to the city buses the next day. The 381-day boycott of Montgomery buses finally had ended. Not only could the black residents of Montgomery now ride city buses as equals, thanks to their efforts so could many other black citizens throughout the nation.
3. She Disagreed With MLK on Non-Violence
After the crescendo of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mrs. Parks left Montgomery for the North.
She had been receiving death threats and she also disagreed with Mr. King on how the civil rights movement should proceed.
After spending time in Virginia, she eventually found her way to Detroit. In her later years she became friends with Malcolm X, whom she referred to as a personal hero. She also became familiar with African-Americans in the Black Panther Movement.
In her relationship with Mr. King vs. Malcolm X, Mrs. Parks believed in retaliatory violence.
4. She received the Congressional Gold Medal
On June 15, 1999, Mrs. Parks was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by then President Bill Clinton, which is the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch.
Her medal is engraved with “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement.”
“Rosa Parks reminded us all that . . . for millions of Americans, our history was full of weary years, our sweet land of liberty bearing only bitter fruit and silent tears.”
5. She Died in 2005
Mrs. Parks died on October 24, 2005 at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan.
Rosa Parks Day was first celebrated on February 4, 2000 and was created by the California State Legislature. However, it is recognized by other observers in other states. As previously stated, Mrs. Parks is sometimes commemorated on December 1, the anniversary of her bus refusal in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.
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