December 1, 1955

Fifty-seven years ago today, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  When local activists learned about her arrest, they organized a city-wide boycott and filed a lawsuit, kicking an emerging civil rights movement into a higher gear.

Mrs. Parks’s non-cooperation was courageous, but it wasn’t an isolated act.  She had been an activist for most of her life, and was chapter secretary of the local NAACP.  She had taken a summer course at the Highlander Institute, where she read about civil disobedience, the Constitution, and the Brown versus Board of Education decision.

She also wasn’t the first person to defy segregation laws on the city buses; earlier that year, Claudette Colvin (at right), then fifteen, was arrested for the same offense, but local activists were reluctant to organize around her.  She was young, less experienced, pregnant, and not married.  Image matters.

The Montgomery bus boycott spurred similar efforts around the United States and brought global attention to the civil rights movement.  It also introduced Martin Luther King, then a young minister, to national visibility.

Mrs. Parks herself became an icon of the movement–and indeed, in American history.  When I ask my students to list heroes of the American civil rights movement, she is second only to Martin Luther King in mentions.  Often, students know no other names from the movement.

Twenty-five years after her arrest, Mrs. Parks’s celebrity brought her an appearance on a game show, To Tell the Truth.  In the video below, you can watch celebrities question her–and two impostors–about the bus boycott.  It’s bizarre and compelling.  The last questioner is comedian Nipsey Russell, who uses his brief turn to shout out to other important, courageous, and now lesser-known heroes of the movement.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to December 1, 1955

  1. olderwoman says:

    Wow. What a find! Interesting that in 1980 they did not recognize her. Apparently they were not even able to detect Southern vs. non-Southern accents. The “impostors” were well versed in the story and said a lot more than Mrs. Parks did. Her one word answers got to be almost funny after a while. “Did you know ED Nixon?” “Yes.”

    • It is amazing on so many levels. I was struck by how much closer serious to frivolous was at this point, and also that Nipsey Russell had actually participated in the movement years earlier. Is it too much of a cliche that the one black member of the panel was the only one who recognized Rosa Parks?

  2. Angelos Evans says:

    again another great post! First time ever I saw Rosa Parks in a video, a truly noble woman. Keep up the good work on this blog.

  3. Pingback: Remembering more of Rosa Parks | Politics Outdoors

  4. Pingback: Happy birthday, Rosa Parks (2017) | Politics Outdoors

  5. Pingback: Happy birthday, Rosa Parks (2019) | Politics Outdoors

  6. Pingback: Happy Birthday Rosa Parks, 2022 (repost) | Politics Outdoors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.