Rosa Parks Bus
On December 1, 1955, 42-year old African-American seamstress Rosa Parks was returning home when she boarded this bus on the Montgomery, Alabama public bus system. She sat in the middle, the furthest forward after the ten seats reserved for white people under Montgomery's racist Jim Crow Laws of segregation. Under those laws, the middle seats were to be given up to a white person if they chose to sat there. When the front seats were filled, and a white person headed back, the driver told the black riders to move to the back of the bus. Four blacks did move back, but Rosa Parks refused. She was eventually pulled off of the bus, arrested, and convicted of violating the laws of segregation.
The spontaneous act was stunning. Rosa Parks was a motherly-looking, well respected middle-class figure in the African-American community. Just as importantly, she had experience working with Civil Rights movements in the 1940s and a strong sense of right and wrong. While African-American Civil Rights leaders were building up to a wholesale confrontation of the system of segregation throughout the 1940s, here was a blatantly obvious case of the fundamental unfairness of the system. The Black community immediately moved in solidarity to Parks and in Montgomery local activists launched a boycott of the bus system. The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., new to Montgomery and so said to be unable to be intimidated by government pressure.
The boycott quickly showed its effects. Electrified by the incident, almost the entire African-American community walked or shared rides, and the bus system, which had a ridership of 75% black, quickly began losing revenue. Black churches throughout the country contributed funds to support the boycott, holding back the city's attempts to force its failure. White Citizens Councils formed and began attacking boycotters and firebombing homes of leaders. King and other leaders were arrested for violating city ordinances, which became a PR disaster for the city when they immediately turned themselves in. As the country turned its focus on Montgomery, things began to change. Browder v. Gayle (1956) passed the United States Supreme Court, stating that segregation of buses were illegal, which quickly followed an order for Alabama to desegregate its buses. After 381 days, the boycott officially ended with the end of the racial divide in municipal transportation.
Still the victory was a bit Pyhrric. The Montgomery City Council quickly emphasized greater segregation laws throughout the city to compensate for the defeat, and Citizen's Councils continued to harass blacks and firebomb homes. Rosa Parks left Montgomery due to death threats and blacklisting. Still, with this victory, people throughout the country were inspired to act out against the racist laws that had governed their communities for so long. The Civil Rights Movement would move into full gear.
In 2001, the bus, long since forgotten and abandoned in a field in Alabama, was traced to be the one where Rosa Parks was forcibly evicted from so long ago (2857 as stated in a newspaper). It was bought at auction and restored in 2003.
The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan