MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a black department store seamstress and a widow in her early fifties, boarded a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. When the bus became exceptionally crowded, Mrs. Parks was ordered to give up her seat (even though she was sitting in the segregated "colored section" of the bus) to a white man, a long-established precedent throughout the South. Tired and weary after a long day at work, Rosa Parks defiantly refused. She was subsequently taken off the bus, arrested and fined ten dollars. To white observers, Mrs. Parks' refusal simply represented an insignificant act of an "uppity nigger." To Montgomery blacks, however, Rosa Parks assumed heroic proportions. The news of her defiance rapidly spread throughout the city and an organized black boycott of the Montgomery bus system was instigated on December 5. Representing seventy-five percent of Montgomery's bus-riding population, the city's blacks continued the boycott (notwithstanding tremendous white indignation and terrorist retaliation) until a federal court injunction prohibiting racial segregation on buses went into effect a year later.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott is of special significance to the student of African American history in at least two respects. In the first place, the boycott provided a pattern of resistance which other blacks in other southern cities soon followed. In this respect, popular historian Louis E. Lomax has written that the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white man, and the subsequent bus boycott represent the "birth of the Negro Revolt." Secondly, the Montgomery boycott provided the setting for the emergence of a new black leader, Martin Luther King. It was King, who had recently received a Ph. D. from Boston University and was relatively unknown nationally, who more or less led the bus boycott. Utilizing Gandhi's principle of passive resistance, Dr. King united the blacks of Montgomery, holding the movement together for a year, despite white harassment. See also: MARTIN LUTHER KING and NONVIOLENCE.