“Don’t ride the bus to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday,” read leaflets that spread through the black community of Montgomery, Alabama, in early December 1955. “If you work, take a cab, or walk.”
An arrest had triggered the appeal. Rosa Parks, a black seamstress, was riding a crowded city bus home after a long day at work when the driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white man. Tired of being pushed around by segregation laws, Parks refused. The bus driver called the police, and Rosa Parks was arrested.
The city’s black leaders called for a boycott of city buses on Monday, December 5. No one was sure if the protest would have much support. Many blacks in Montgomery depended on the buses to get to work. But when Monday morning came, city buses followed their routes carrying only handfuls of white riders.
The boycott organizers, led by a young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr., decided to keep the boycott going. Black taxi drivers lowered their fares for protesters. People loaned cars to help get others to school, work, or the store. Many blacks simply walked wherever they needed to go.
Tension rose as the boycott dragged on. Police harassed black taxi drivers and carpool drivers. King’s home was bombed, but he and his family escaped harm. As news of the protest spread, support for the boycotters grew across the nation.
In November 1956 the Supreme Court struck down Alabama’s bus segregation laws as unconstitutional. On December 21, 1956 – 381 days after it started – the boycott came to an end. Rosa Parks was one of the first to ride the desegregated buses. For her courage she is remembered as the mother of the modern-day civil rights movement.