Editors Note: We're blogging through We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, the southern American states were still heavily segregated. Jim Crow laws were still very much in effect, and colored people were regularly ignored at best and attacked at worst.
In Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, there was still a city ordinance in place requiring black people to give up their seats if the white half of a bus was full. On December 1, 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and was arrested. Leaders in the colored community heard of her arrest, and scheduled a bus boycott on December 5, Parks’ court date. African American riders made up 75% of the bus’s business, and the leaders of the boycott wanted equal treatment. During the boycott, colored taxis offered ten cent rides for boycotters, carpools were organized, and many people walked to their needed locations.
On June 5, 1956, the Montgomery federal court struck the bus segregation law down as unconstitutional. After an unsuccessful appeal the U.S. Supreme Court, the buses were integrated and the boycott ended.
Integration didn’t go smoothly. While the buses were integrated, the bus stops were not. Snipers occasionally shot into the buses. A few of the colored leaders’ houses were firebombed, and an attempt on Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was defused.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a big moment in the fight for equal rights. From that point on, many other Jim Crow laws were overturned all over the country. Rosa Parks’ one moment of defiance changed the country.
Note: On our visit to the Henry Ford back in 2012, we were able to sit in the bus that Rosa Parks did.