Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Anniversary of Rosa Parks’ Arrest: December 1, 1955

December 1, 2020 Archive Insight

Yellow and lime green bus with white roof
Montgomery city bus in which Rosa Parks refused to move to the back, now in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF14922

This year marks the 65th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to stand up and move to the back of this city bus from Montgomery, Alabama (above). In our previous blog posts, we have focused primarily upon the story of Rosa Parks herself—her background, character, motivation, and legacy.

Woman with hair pulled back wearing suit jacket sits in chair with mantel and wall covered in newspaper behind her
In 1992, Rosa Parks visited Greenfield Village with a group of students during a "Freedom Tour" sponsored by the Raymond and Rosa Parks Foundation. After she spoke to students, she posed here in the Mattox House, the 1930s Georgia home of an African American family. / THF123775

We now take the opportunity to acknowledge the important contributions of numerous other individuals to this legacy.

Our first acknowledgment goes to those who helped lay the foundations for Rosa Parks’ act: the many black Montgomerians who put up with mistreatment and humiliation on segregated buses for years, and even decades, so that when the right time came they were ready to take collective action; to early community activists in Montgomery like Raymond Parks (Rosa’s husband), Mary Fair Burks, Rev. Vernon Johns, Rufus Lewis, Johnnie Carr, and J. E. Pierce; and to Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, who made the conscious decision to refuse to stand up and move to the back of the buses on which they rode just months before Rosa Parks.

Round gold-colored token with text around outside and picture of bus in center
Token used on Montgomery bus lines, about 1955 / THF8293

Second, we recognize the important work of community organizations that worked toward effecting change at the time—the Women’s Political Council, the Montgomery Improvement Association, and the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP (for which Rosa Parks had worked); to black community leaders who shaped these organizations and mobilized the black community to take action as a response to Rosa Parks’ arrest—including Jo Ann Robinson, E.D. Nixon, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and to young black lawyer and activist Fred Gray for defending both Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks as well as for bringing other notable civil rights cases to court.

Magazine cover with yellow and white background, text, and image of three adults and one child walking in foreground with bus in background
Liberation Magazine from April 1956, featuring the Montgomery bus boycott on its cover. / THF139343

Finally, we acknowledge Montgomery’s black community for courageously defying the city’s segregated bus practices by boycotting Montgomery buses after Rosa Parks’ act. For 381 days, this community surmounted obstacle after obstacle created by those attempting to obstruct and put an end to this boycott. Their courage and determination set an example for others, both then and now.

The story of the Montgomery bus boycott and how it unfolded will appear in future blog posts.

For more background on the story of Rosa Parks, see:


To better understand the important role of the individuals and community organizations mentioned above, check out:

  • Rosa Parks: My Story, by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins (1999)
  • The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by Jeanne Theoharis (2015)
  • Rosa Parks: A Life, by Douglas Brinkley (2005)

 

Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

Rosa Parks bus, women's history, African American history, Civil Rights, Rosa Parks, by Donna R. Braden

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