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The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Montgomery Bus Boycott


On December 1, 1955, during evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42-year-old woman took a seat on the bus on her way home from work. Before she reached her destination, the bus driver instructed her to move to the back of the bus. She refused. The arrest of Rosa Parks, an African American, for violating a city law requiring racial segregated public buses would have far-reaching consequences.

Reserved for white passengers, the front ten seats were off limits to African Americans on Montgomery, Alabama, city buses. Not seated in the first ten seats, Mrs. Parks sat in the row just behind those seats. When the bus became crowded, the bus driver instructed Mrs. Parks and three other passengers seated in that row, all African Americans, to vacate their seats for the white passengers boarding. The other three passengers moved but Mrs. Parks remained seated, stating that she was not in a seat reserved for whites. The bus driver believed that he had the authority to move the line separating black and white passengers. When Mrs. Parks refused to move, he called the police to arrest Rosa Parks.

Mrs. Parks was booked, fingerprinted, and briefly incarcerated. The police report states that she was charged with "refusing to obey orders of bus driver." Her arrest became a rallying point around which the African American community organized a bus boycott in protest of the discrimination they had endured for years. Twenty-six year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as a leader during the peaceful boycott that lasted 381 days and captured the world’s attention.

Convicted under city law, Mrs. Parks’ attorney filed a notice of appeal with the Alabama State Court of Appeals. With Rosa Parks’ case tied up in the state system, a panel of three judges in the U.S. District Court ruled in a related case, called Browder v. Gayle, that racial segregation of public buses was unconstitutional. Decided on June 4, 1956, the United States Supreme Court quickly upheld the Browder v. Gayle verdict on November 13, 1956.


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