On this dayDec 01, 1955

Rosa Parks Arrested for Violating Bus Segregation Laws in Alabama

Image | Gene Harrick, AP (Rosa Parks is fingerprinted in February 1956 after she is arrested with other organizers for planning the Montgomery Bus Boycott). 

On December 1, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress and activist Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated city bus. Her stand helped to spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which remains one of the most well-known campaigns of the civil rights movement. Less well known, Mrs. Parks's work for racial justice long preceded this courageous act. She was very active in the local chapter of the NAACP ever since joining as the chapter’s only woman member in 1943, and had served as both the youth leader and secretary. Mrs. Parks frequently traveled throughout Alabama to interview black people who had suffered racial terror, violence, or other injustice. In 1944, she investigated the Abbeville, Alabama, gang-rape of a young black woman named Recy Taylor, and joined with other civil rights activists to organize a national campaign demanding prosecution of the white men responsible.

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks began her bus ride home from work sitting in the “colored section.” Montgomery’s segregated bus service designated separate seating areas for black and white passengers; during peak operating hours, if the white seating area became full, the bus driver could expand its boundaries and request that African Americans stand to relinquish their seats to whites. While black riders were not legally obligated to comply, city bus drivers were notorious for their hostile treatment of black riders and their requests were rarely refused.

As more white passengers boarded, the bus driver asked Mrs. Parks and three other seated African Americans to give up their seats to white riders. When Mrs. Parks was the only one to refuse, the driver summoned police and she was arrested. Mrs. Parks later recalled that she had refused to stand, not because she was physically tired, but because she was tired of giving in. That same night, Jo Ann Robinson and other local activists began organizing what would become the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

About EJI

The Equal Justice Initiative works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.

Learn more

About this website

Until we confront our history of racial injustice and its legacy, we cannot overcome the racial bias that exists today.

Learn more