Wednesday, December 1, 2010
By ANDREW GLASS
12/1/10 4:58 AM EST
On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks, an African-American, was arrested and charged with violating a Montgomery, Ala., ordinance that required her to relinquish her bus seat to a white passenger. Her act of defiance sparked a yearlong bus boycott in the segregated city. It helped inspire a crusade that led Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, bars discrimination in public accommodations.
Parks’s status as an iconic figure in the civil rights movement began when she was seated in the first row of the rear, which was set aside for blacks. Because the front of the bus was full, the driver demanded that she give up her seat to a white rider. Her failure to do so resulted in a $10 fine, plus an additional $4 in court costs. In 1956, the Supreme Court found the ordinance unconstitutional.
At the time, Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress, served as secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She said that she took her action as a private citizen, however, because she was “tired of giving in.”
After her arrest, the Montgomery department store where she worked fired her. Eventually, Parks moved to Detroit, where she found a similar job. From 1965 to 1988, she was a receptionist for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
On Sept. 9, 1996, President Bill Clinton presented Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the executive branch’s highest honor. In 1997, she received a Congressional Gold Medal.
After Parks died on Oct. 24, 2005, her body lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where some 50,000 people viewed the casket. She remains the only nongovernmental American to receive this tribute.
SOURCE: “JOURNEY FROM JIM CROW: THE DESEGREGATION OF SOUTHERN TRANSIT,” BY CATHERINE BARNES (1983)