The driver on the bus in Montgomery, Ala., that afternoon was named J.P. Blake. The 36 seats on his bus were all filled. The 14 seats nearest to the front were occupied by white passengers, the 22 at the back by blacks, which is how things had been in Alabama since anyone could remember.
But it was now Dec. 1, 1955, and Rosa Parks was tired. She had just gotten off work from her seamstress job at the downtown Montgomery Fair Department store. When Blake noticed a white man standing in the front of the bus, he ordered the four black passengers in the first row behind the whites to get up and move to the back.
No one responded at first, so Blake moved angrily toward the back and spoke more forcefully. Three of the black passengers got up.
Parks refused to move.
In a soft, calm voice, she told the driver she wasn't in the white section and wasn't moving. Blake told her the white section was wherever he said it was. When she refused one more warning, Blake had her arrested.
Parks, of course, was no ordinary woman. At the time, she was the secretary of the local NAACP chapter and a teacher and mother figure to scores of black children at the Trinity Lutheran Church. A product of Montgomery's working-class neighborhoods, she always carried herself in such a dignified manner that she was respected even among Montgomery's wealthiest blacks.
E.D. Nixon, her mentor at the NAACP, had been hoping for months for the right person to come forward to challenge the city's segregation laws. A few months earlier, a black woman named Mary Louise Smith had been arrested on another bus for refusing to leave her seat, but Nixon decided against fighting her case. Smith's father was an alcoholic and her family was desperately poor. Nixon worried that they would not make the best example in the press.
But Parks was the perfect figure to represent the civil rights movement. The night of her arrest, Nixon called the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy and asked for their support. Starting Monday, Dec. 5, he told the civil rights leaders, the black community of Montgomery would begin boycotting all public buses until the city's segregation laws were abolished.
That morning, when the buses would normally be filled with black maids heading to work, the first bus was empty. The Montgomery bus boycott had begun, and America would never be the same again.
© 2005 New York Daily News