On 1 December 1955, after a long day of work at a department store in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus. She took a seat in the section designated for "colored" passengers. The bus began to fill, and when the driver noticed that white passengers were standing in the aisle, he stopped the bus and relocated the sign indicating the area for black passengers. In the process, he asked four black passengers to give up their seats. Three passengers complied, but Parks remained seated and the driver called the police. Before getting on the bus on that fateful day, Parks hadn't been intending to make a symbolic stand for civil rights. But when the bus driver told her to move, Parks realized that she was "tired of giving in" to the injustice of segregation. Her decision, and resulting arrest, was a pivotal moment that led to the Montgomery bus boycott.
Pay in the front, board in the back:
- Montgomery's laws required that all public transportation be segregated. Drivers had the "powers of a police officer” to enforce the code, but it didn’t specifically give them the right to make passengers give up their seats.
- Montgomery bus drivers had adopted the custom of making African-American passengers to defer to white passengers -- and if they protested, the driver had the authority to refuse service or call the police.
- When an African-American passenger boarded a bus, he or she got on at the front to pay the fare. The passenger was then required to get off the bus and re-board through the back door.