Rosa Parks wasn't the first black person to refuse to move to the back of the bus—nine months before, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had done the same thing, and there were many others—but she is the most famous. Sixty years ago today, on December 1, 1955, Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for violating chapter 6, section 11 of the Montgomery County Code. (You can see the arrest report above, courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
While chapter 6, section 10 required racial separation on buses, section 11 gave bus drivers the power of the police to enforce it: "… it shall be unlawful for any passenger to refuse or fail to take a seat among those assigned to the race to which he belongs, at the request of any such employee in charge." When Parks refused, the bus driver called the police and signed a warrant for her. Her arrest became a seminal moment in the civil rights movement.
Parks is so prominent in the public imagination that you might think you know all about her, but chances are there's still a lot to learn. Today The Nation features a comprehensive corrective co-written by Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. The Washington Post has a similar roundup of myths (and truths) about Parks.
For Parks's own take on her actions, recorded long before she became an American icon, listen to this 1956 interview with her.