Taking a look back in the history books of this week in 1955, an initially insignificant event took place which ended up serving as a watershed moment in the history of the American civil rights movement. 1950s America was fraught with entrenched racial divisions which took the form of segregation in many places. This was particularly noticeable on public transport where African American citizens were relegated to the back of the bus. However, on the 1st of December 1955, one Rosa Parks, a black seamstress of Montgomery Alabama, refused to move from the seat she had taken up near the front of the bus where priority was given to white bus riders.
In an interview with Rosa Parks, she explained that she was unaware of just how far-reaching her act of defiance would become; at the time she was tired and eager to get home – being asked to give up her seat was an inconvenience.
This was unheard of behaviour which authorities responded to by arresting Parks for her alleged misdemeanours. This event set off a chain of events which fuelled the fire for civil rights protest. The Montgomery Improvement Association (of which Martin Luther King Jr. was a part) urged a boycott of Montgomery bus services – 99% of Montgomery’s African American population came out to honour this demand which resulted in a drastic revenue loss for the bus companies.
This put financial pressure on federal authorities which could not simply be ignored; on November 23 1956, the Supreme Court proclaimed segregated bus services to be a breach of the constitution. The event became a key turning point in the civil rights movement, signifying one of the first major acts of resistance which galvanised the civil rights cause – because of it, many began refusing to take no for an answer.
Image: Suye Xu