The Bus Stop

Rosa Parks.  "The First Lady of Civil Rights".  "The Mother of the Freedom Movement".  Anyone who has ever sat through a U.S. History class knows Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat, and that arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  The Boycott was one of the first effective attacks against the Jim Crow Era in the South, and as a result Mrs. Parks became one of the faces of the Civil Rights Movement.  There are several sites and historical markers dedicated to Rosa Parks, and we'll cover all of them eventually, but today we're going to go to the spot where she took her first step into the spotlight.

Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913.  Her father was a carpenter, and her mother was a teacher.  When she was still young, her parents separated, and her mother moved Rosa and her younger brother to Pine Level, Alabama in the extreme southeastern corner of Montgomery County.  When she was 19, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery.  He was already a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and with his encouragement Rosa finished her high school diploma and went through the extreme hardships and discrimination that came with registering to vote.

Rosa joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, and was chosen as the chapter's secretary.  Around the same time, she worked at Maxwell Air Force Base.  Later she worked for the Durr family as a seamstress and housekeeper.  Rosa and the Durrs became close friends, and with their encouragement and backing she spent the summer of 1955 at the Highlander Folk School in Grundy County, Tennessee.  Highlander was dedicated to providing training for anyone who wanted to take an active leadership role in social justice movements.

Now we need to pause to take a quick look at the rules and laws regarding buses in Montgomery in 1955.  An ordinance from 1900 made it legal to racially segregate bus seating, and gave the driver the power to set aside sections for one race, but the ordinance clearly protected anyone from having to give up their seat once they had obtained it.  Over time, that policy was overruled by practice.  By 1955, the standard setup had a sign that marked the first four rows of a bus as "White Only", but the sign could be moved.  Since 75% of all Montgomery bus riders at that time were black, the sign didn't have to be moved often, but if the "White" section filled up, the bus driver could move the sign back a few rows and force anyone sitting there to get up.  This was the system Rosa had experienced her entire adult life.

After her summer at Highlander, Rosa came back to Montgomery and got a job as a seamstress at The Fair Store, located at 28 Monroe Street.  On December 1, 1955 she left work around 6 p.m. and walked out to the closest bus stop to get a ride home.  You can see the spot of the bus stop in the center of the next photo, with the location of the store back and to the right of the small park.

The Bus Ride historical marker, site of the bus stop Rosa Parks used the night she was arrested, Court Square, Montgomery, Alabama

Rosa boarded #2857 and took a seat in the middle section, behind the "Whites Only" sign.  The original bus is now an exhibit at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, and you can see a photo of it below.

Montgomery City Lines bus #2857, ridden by Rosa Parks the night she was arrested, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan (Photo courtesy of Alvintrusty - 2015)

Rosa rode the bus for two stops before it pulled up in front of the Empire Theater at 214 Montgomery Street (current location of the Rosa Parks Library & Museum).  The "Whites Only" section of the bus filled up, so the driver came back, moved the sign back a row and told the four African-Americans seated there to get up.  Three of them complied, but Rosa refused, and the driver called the police. The next image shows the arrest report, with J.F. Blake (the bus driver) as the Complainant, and F.B. Day and D.W. Mixon as the responding officers.  I've also included a transcription of the Complaint.

Arrest report for Rosa Parks, 1 December 1955, Montgomery, Alabama (image courtesy of The National Archives)

We received a call upon arrival the bus operator said he had a colored female sitting in the white section of the bus, and would not move back.
We (Day & Mixon) also saw her.
The bus operator signed a warrant for her. Rosa Parks, (cf) 634 Cleveland Court.
Rosa Parks (cf) was charged with chapter 6 section 11 of the Montgomery City Code.
— F.B. Day & D.W. Mixon

Rosa was booked and spent a day in jail.  E.D. Nixon (president of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP) and Clifford Durr (Rosa's former employer and friend, and a prominent social justice lawyer) were able to bail her out the following evening.  We'll end the story here, for now, with Rosa's mug shot.  I know we're just getting to the good stuff, but I need to save something for the other historical markers dedicated to the Movement that finally got off the ground when a seamstress from Alabama decided she was tired of being treated like she didn't belong.

Mug shot of Rosa Parks, 1 December 1955, following her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama (photo courtesy of the National Archives)

The following historical marker sits on the former site of the bus stop where Rosa boarded.  The first side discusses the Boycott, while the second gives a brief biography of Rosa.  Photos and transcriptions of both sides are included below, along with another marker placed in the ground by the group who sponsored this historical marker.

The Bus Stop historical marker, Court Square, Montgomery, Alabama

The Bus Stop
The Montgomery Bus Boycott

At the stop on this site on December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks board the bus which would transport her name into history. Returning home after a long day working as a seamstress for Montgomery Fair department store, she refused the bus driver’s order to give up her seat to boarding whites. Her arrest, conviction, and fine launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Boycott began December 5, the day of Parks’s trial, as a protest by African-Americans for unequal treatment they received on the bus line. Refusing to ride the buses, they maintained the Boycott until the U.S. Supreme Court ordered integration of public transportation on year later. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Boycott, the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
— Sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated during its Centennial Salute, Alabama Historical Association - 2008

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks historical marker, Court Square, Montgomery, Alabama

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks
A Lady of Courage

Born in Tuskegee, AL on February 4, 1913, to James McCauley, a carpenter, and Leona Edwards, a teacher. Moved with mother and brother to Pine Level, AL after parents’ separation. Enrolled in Mrs. White’s School for Girls at age 11 and received her high school diploma from Alabama State Teachers College Laboratory high School. Married Montgomery barber Raymond Parks in 1932, both became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which Mrs. Parks served as local chapter secretary. Family relocated to Detriot, MI in 1957 as result of hostility received after her courageous refusal to give up her bus seat. in 1988, the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” was inducted as an honorary member into Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the oldest African American sorority in the nation. Rosa Parks was the sole class of 2008 inductee into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.
— Sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated during its Centennial Salute; Alabama Historical Association - 2008

Alpha Kappa Alpha plaque commemorating the placement of The Bus Stop historical marker, Court Square, Montgomery, Alabama

Commemorating the Centennial
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated

Here stood Mrs. Rosa Parks
Mother of the Civil Rights Movement and Honorary Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Where she boarded the Montgomery Public Bus
December 1, 1955
— Dr. Barbara A. McKinzie, Centennial International President; Dr. Juanita Sims Doty, Centennial Southeastern Regional Director; Marker dedicated March 2008

As always, I've included a map of the marker at the bottom of the post.  You can also click on the Map link to see the Goat Hill History Master Map, which includes every location we've covered to date.  I'm not going to spoil our next post, but I will say that it involves geology.