Was Rosa Parks asked to move back, or stand?
April 19, 2012 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Was Rosa Park's bus full, or were just the white seats full? Was she asked to stand, or move to the back of the bus?

The question came up when arguing for marriage equality, when I used a Rosa Parks analogy.

I did some googling and sites seem to disagree, though most seem to indicate she was asked to move to the back, not stand.

http://whitehouse.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/19/potus-sits-on-bus-made-famous-by-rosa-parks/ (comments, so... grains of sand)

search the articles for 'full'.

Wikipedia doesn't really specify.

Ideally I want a link to an authoritative answer, if possible.

Thanks, Brock
posted by antiquark to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I read a New Yorker (I think) article that Rosa Parks was part of the civil rights movement, and this was a planned action.

I cannot find the NYer article, but here is something about it.
posted by Danf at 8:01 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't claim this account is authoritative, but it is very detailed and well footnoted:
Rosa Parks is probably the most romanticized personage in the Montgomery cast of characters. She is often portrayed as a simple seamstress who, exhausted after a long day at work, refused to give up her seat to a white person. While this is not untrue, there is more to the story....On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a city bus and sat with three other blacks in the fifth row, the first row that blacks could occupy. A few stops later, the front four rows were filled with whites, and one white man was left standing. According to law, blacks and whites could not occupy the same row, so the bus driver asked all four of the blacks seated in the fifth row to move. Three complied, but Parks refused. She was arrested.
As this piece accurately describes, it's important to note that the organizers of the Montgomery opposition to segregation had already decided there would be a bus boycott and a legal case brought against the bus company, and were just waiting to find the right person and the right incident to make the right case to take it forward.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on April 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think the question is: if she had given up her seat, would she have had to stand, or could she have moved to a different seat further back to sit again?
posted by amtho at 8:10 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually, the question seems to be whether she was asked to move back or asked to stand. The answer appears to be neither: she was asked/ordered to surrender her seat.
posted by trip and a half at 8:15 PM on April 19, 2012

Yes, my question is as posed by amtho.
posted by antiquark at 8:18 PM on April 19, 2012

Trip and a half, that may be the question, but it's not _my_ question.
posted by antiquark at 8:19 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmmm... here's something:
Black people also had to stand in the rear of the bus or leave the bus is there was no room for them. According to the actual segregation law, however (established in 1900), no passengers would be required to move or give up their seat if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available. This meant that if a black was already seated, and there were no more seats available in the back that they would not be forced to move. It was common practice however to make blacks stand so that whites could sit.

Finding herself in this same situation, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for several reasons. First, the written law stated that she did not have to give up her seat if no other seats were available. Second, she felt she did not have to stand up and simply slid over to allow anther seat should a white person choose to sit next to her. Third, she felt that her rights had been violated. Fourth, and finally, she decided that it was better to be arrested than to continue to suffer in silence.
posted by mochapickle at 9:29 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

So it appears that the other seats in the back were full. And a diagram of the bus seating -- I'm assuming each circled X represents a passenger.
posted by mochapickle at 9:30 PM on April 19, 2012

If I recall correctly, all seats behind her were full, so Mrs. Parks (as well as the other three black passengers told to move from that row) would have had to stand. The practice was, as others say above, to make ALL black passengers in a row --- not just those in a single seat, but those on both sides of the bus --- move to the rear so that entire row was now 'white only'.

So as unbelievable as it sounds to us today, in that time and place the bus company considered it reasonable to make four black passengers (who were already on the bus) leave their seats so one just-arrived white person could sit, leaving three of the seats on that row empty.
posted by easily confused at 1:58 AM on April 20, 2012

I read a New Yorker (I think) article that Rosa Parks was part of the civil rights movement, and this was a planned action.

Like most things, the truth is somewhere between the two stories. Parks was a trained activist, however she was also a tired lady heading home from her job. When ordered to get up, she went back to her training.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:06 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also read recently (sorry, don't have the reference) that she had had run-ins with that particular driver and for years had avoided his bus. On this particular day, she was tired and failed to pay attention to which bus she was getting on, so when he asked her to move, she had just had enough and refused.
posted by tamitang at 6:49 AM on April 20, 2012

Like most things, the truth is somewhere between the two stories.

Though as I said above, the boycott itself was already far along in planning, and they organizers had already looked at at least one previous similar incident involving Claudette Colvin, and decided hers wouldn't make a good court case, primarily because she got pregnant without being married and so would have lost jury sympathy. So the infrastructure was ready in that sense.

Here is some really useful primary information including the text of the law and some other documents.

I think we run the risk of minimizing the degree of highly organized activism in the segregated South and in Parks herself when we characterize her as being just tired that day. She likely was (I sure would be) but rather than giving in to a moment of exhaustion, she made a very active, aware choice - she knew exactly what she was challenging and what the consequences were likely to be. She couldn't have known the driver's reaction in advance or predicted her arrest with certaintly, nor could she have known that she would become the subject of Nixon's case, but she was not unaware that her choice - no matter what - would be one more contribution of small action to the larger movement she was engaged in, becoming part of a long chain of documented incidents that the NAACP and others tracked routinely. She knew it was a lot more than simply saying "I'm tired and I don't want to give up my seat."
Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had been active for twelve years in the local NAACP chapter, serving as its secretary. The summer before her arrest, she'd had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee's labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she met an older generation of civil rights activists, like South Carolina teacher Septima Clark, and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning separate-but-equal schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested...In short, Rosa Parks didn't make a spur-of-the-moment decision.

One of the most powerful documents I have ever seen is this list of recommended rules/behaviors (it's image 8) for people riding the buses once they were newly desegregated. It has been transcribed here:
1. Not all white people are opposed to integrated buses. Accept goodwill on the part of many.

2. The whole bus is now for the use of all people. Take a vacant seat.

3. Pray for guidance and commit yourself to complete non-violence in word and action as you enter the bus.

4. Demonstrate the calm dignity of our Montgomery people in your actions.

5. In all things observe ordinary rules of courtesy and good behavior.

6. Remember that this is not a victory for Negroes alone, but for all Montgomery and the South. Do not boast! Do not brag!

7. Be quiet but friendly; proud, but not arrogant; joyous, but not boisterous.
People talk a lot about the Civil Rights movement. It was amazing; but the thing that stands out to me in my volunteer work today is that it was incredibly well organized.
posted by Miko at 7:48 AM on April 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

Since we also seem to be debunking Rosa Parks myths, I'd like to add that she was also an anti-rape activist during the Jim Crow era. I can't imagine the type of bravery that required.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

It was amazing; but the thing that stands out to me in my volunteer work today is that it was incredibly well organized.

One more note on this, in my tiny Alabama town when civil rights workers staged (that word is actually appropriate) a protest on the courthouse square for the media they brought pre-lettered signs that said things like "Integrate the Bowling Alley!" when the town was far, far too tiny to have anything close to a bowling alley or any of the other amenities. The protests didn't get much attention because the local sheriff and judge were not entirely unsympathetic and they did not meet with a negative reaction that would garner a lot of press coverage.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:59 AM on April 20, 2012

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