OTD Rosa Parks

April 1, 2021

65 Years Ago Today

A 42-year-old black woman in Montgomery, Alabama was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white passenger.

She became known as the
“first lady of civil rights.”
“… At that time, there was legally enforced segregation. There were places black people couldn’t go, and rights we did not have. This was not acceptable to me. A lot of other people didn’t disobey the rules because they didn’t want to get into trouble… I was determined that I let it be known that I did not want to be treated in this manner.”

Rosa Parks reflecting on her arrest. She also said, "I did not get on the bus to get arrested; I got on the bus to go home."

What Happened:

  • City law mandated that only white riders could sit in the front 10 bus seats.
  • Rosa Parks sat in the first row behind the front 10 bus seats. When more white passengers boarded, the bus driver asked her (and three other black passengers seated in her row) to give up their seats for the white passengers.
  • She refused & was arrested for disobeying the bus driver’s orders.


  • Parks, who worked as a seamstress, was involved in her local chapter of the Nat’l Assoc. for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) & served as the secretary for its president — who helped post her bail.
  • Parks said she asked the officer who arrested her, “Why do you push us around?” His reply: “I don’t know. But the law is the law and you are under arrest.”
“To me it was a regular, routine arrest, therefore I didn’t think anything else about it until the next morning after I went to work.”

Former police officer Leroy Pierce was the first officer to arrive on scene, though he did not arrest Parks. In 2018 at age 91, Pierce described the scene as he recalled it to a Montgomery newspaper; there are varying accounts of what happened. Immediately after Parks’ arrest, word spread of a nonviolent protest; the Montgomery Bus Boycott started days later on Dec. 5th.


Rosa Parks wasn’t the first (or last) one to confront segregation laws, but her actions fueled a lasting movement.

  • 381-Day Montgomery Bus Boycott: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a 13-month peaceful protest following her arrest.
  • 1956 U.S. Supreme Court Decision: The court upheld a lower court’s decision deeming segregation on public buses unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks’ impact lasted long after the civil rights movement. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, the highest civilian honor in the United States. She died in 2005 at age 92, and became the first (and only) woman to “lie in honor” in the U.S. Capitol.


From 2018: Alabama officer recalls 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks

by Jenna Lee,