We all know that Rosa Parks proudly refused to give up her seat on a bus because she was African American. However, less folks know of a not-so-documented instance twelve years before her arrest.
One day in 1943, Ms. Parks boarded the front of the bus because there was standing room only in the back. The driver, James F. Blake, ordered her – according to city code – to exit the bus and enter again through the back because of her skin color.
Frustrated, Ms. Parks stepped off and waited for the next bus. She vowed never to ride a bus driven by Blake again.
On December 1, 1955, Ms. Parks boarded a bus and sat in the very front row of seats reserved for African Americans. The bus became increasingly full and the section reserved for white quickly became filled.
However, one white man remained without a seat.
Lo’ and behold, Blake, the same bus driver from years earlier, asked Ms. Parks and three other blacks to relinquish their seats to the white man. Parks refused, and the police arrested her later for her misconduct. The Women’s Political Council, a Montgomery-based activist group, began posting flyers that very night to encourage blacks to boycott the bus.
Also on that evening, E.D. Nixon, president of the local NAACP chapter, met with Parks in her home and encouraged her to take the matter to court. The local court eventually ruled against Ms. Parks and fined her $10 in penalties and $4 in court fees.
Prompted by Parks’ arrest – in addition to several others for the same crime – the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) under the direction of Martin Luther King, Jr., as president, and Nixon, as treasurer, met to discuss the events and propose a new boycott of the bus system, as others had been discussed prior to Parks’ arrest.
The MIA passed an official proposal for the boycott on Friday, December 2, and its supporters spread the word through congregations the Sunday before to spread word of the boycott on Monday, December 3.
When Monday came, an overwhelming amount of African Americans refrained from using the bus system.
Although the original boycott was scheduled to last a short time, the African American community boycotted the Montgomery bus system 385 days. The determination of the protestors eventually led to the federal case Browder v. Gayle that declared the segregation of bus seating to be unconstitutional.
This is the background for the first section of our Black History Touring show, Walk Don’t Ride. Numerous performances are scheduled in the greater Knoxville area from today through Feb. 29.
There is a free, public performance on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 6:00 pm at First Baptist Church, 510 W. Main St., Knoxville. Join us!