How refusing to move and a $14 fine ignited the civil rights movement

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – 65 years ago, seamstress Rosa Parks made a decision that started the fight for equality. Under Jim Crow, (segregation) laws used to keep people separated, Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man…and changed the country in an instant.

Why did the mother of the civil rights movement refuse? In her words, “She was tired of being treated that way.”

In a 1995 interview archived at Digital History, Rosa recalls what happened on that historic day, “I was arrested on December 1, 1955, for refusing to stand up on the order of the bus driver, after the white seats had been occupied in the front. And of course, I was not in the front of the bus as many people have written and spoken that I was — that I got on the bus and took the front seat, but I did not. I took a seat that was just back of where the white people were sitting, in fact, the last seat. A man was next to the window, and I took an aisle seat, and there were two women across. We went on undisturbed until about the second or third stop when some white people boarded the bus and left one man standing. And when the driver noticed him standing, he told us to stand up and let him have those seats. He referred to them as front seats. And when the other three people — after some hesitancy — stood up, he wanted to know if I was going to stand up, and I was not. And he told me he would have me arrested. And I told him he may do that. And of course, he did.”

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=540885

Living in Montgomery under the Jim Crow laws was not easy. According to a report from history.com, “Black people could attend only certain (inferior) schools, could drink only from specified water fountains, and could borrow books only from the “Black” library, among other restrictions.”

Rosa Parks was jailed, found guilty of violating segregation laws, given a suspended sentence, and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs.

From that moment forward she became the symbol of dignity and strength in the fight to end racial segregation.

The headline that Parks had been jailed sent a shockwave through Montgomery, Alabama

Associated Press; restored by Adam Cuerden
 

It gained the attention of a 26-year-old preacher named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the NAACP’s local leader, Edgar Nixon.

They organized a bus boycott in Montgomery that lasted more than a year. The bus boycott ended when the U.S. supreme court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional and violated the 14th amendment.

Rosa lost her job during the struggle.

According to History.com, some interesting facts have come out about what happened in Montgomery during that time.

The incident 65 years ago was not the first time she stood up to James Blake the bus driver. She had another incident where she left the bus 12 years earlier.

Courtesy: National Archive and Records Administration 596069

Before the Supreme Court decision, Dr. King had offered a first-come, first-serve compromise solution with Blacks and whites boarding different parts of the bus.

Parks went to work for Nixon at the NAACP and he supported her even though he believed a “woman’s place was in the kitchen.”

Here in Utah, the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission shared the importance of the day with ABC4 News.

“Today marks the 65th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ historic and movement-sparking refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955. In response, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organized a 381-day boycott of the bus company, and what transpired were the roots of the Civil Rights movement and eventually, in 1956, the Supreme Court ruled against segregation on public transportation in Montgomery,” reflects a spokesperson with the division.

“This shows that small actions, when driven with purpose and justice in mind, can yield effective change. The Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission honor Rosa Parks’ bravery on this day and may it be a reminder in our efforts to bring positive change and social justice through our daily acts and mindsets.”

Utah State Representative Sandra Hollins, who helped lead the fight to get the slavery clause taken out of Utah’s State Constitution this year, said, “Rosa Parks represents the power a person can have when she sees injustice and says enough is enough.  She inspired a generation of Americans to join a movement to end the era of Jim Crow.  Sadly, we still have systemic racism in our country.  But Rosa Parks’ story teaches us that citizens can make change when morality is on our side.  We did the same this year with slavery in Utah’s constitution.  We said enough is enough, and we inspired citizens to make change.”

In the 1995 interview, Rosa was asked what the American dream meant to her? She said, “I think the American Dream should be to have a good life, and to live well, and to be a good citizen. I think that should apply to all of us. That it is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and I believe it should be just that for all people. They can think of themselves as human beings, and they’ll enjoy the blessings of the freedom of this country.”

“We still have a long way to go. We still have many obstacles and many challenges to face. It’s far from perfect, and it may never be, but I think as long as we do the best we can to improve conditions, then people will be benefited.”

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