Dec. 1, 1955: Rosa Parks Refuses to Give Up Her Seat


Rosa Parks at a desegregation workshop at Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in July of 1955 (six months before the boycott). Also in the photo: Septima Poinsette Clark, F.D. Patterson, and C.H. Parrish. Photo: Civil Rights Digital Library.

On Dec. 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.

Four days earlier, on November 27, 1955, Rosa Parks attended a packed mass meeting at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to hear Dr. T. R. M. Howard speak. Howard was the lead organizer in the Emmett Till case–the 14-year-old Chicago boy who had been tortured and murdered in Money, Mississippi. Howard had helped draw attention to the lynching and locate witnesses; Emmett’s mother Mamie Till had stayed at his house during the trial.

Howard had come before a packed mass meeting in Montgomery because the two men who had killed Till— Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam—had recently been acquitted by an all-white jury, and Howard was travelling the country try to raise attention on the acquittal and continue to press forward. Rosa Parks was sickened, angry, depressed and horrified. She had been fighting to get justice in cases like these for more than a decade. With the Till case, as horrible as it was, the amount of attention had heartened her. The two men had actually been indicted. But then they walked free.

Four days later, when bus driver James Blake asked Rosa Parks to give up her seat—”pushed as far as she could be pushed,” she refused. She later told Till’s mother that she had thought of Emmett in that moment. When two police officers boarded the bus and asked her why she didn’t didn’t get up, Parks challenged them, “Why do you push us around.” Rosa Parks’ bus stand was not just a reaction to bus segregation but also to a pattern of injustice in the criminal justice system–and her determination to stand against it.

This story is from the website for The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, courtesy of Jeanne Theoharis. Read more.

Here are resources for teaching about the true story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

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