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1955: Black woman challenges race law

A black woman has been arrested by police in Montgomery, Alabama, after refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white person.

Mrs Rosa Parks now faces a fine for breaking the segregation laws which say black Americans must vacate their seats if there are white passengers left standing.

It is not the first time Mrs Parks, who is a seamstress, has defied the law on segregation.

In 1943 she was thrown off a bus for refusing to get on via the back door, which was reserved for black passengers. She became known to other drivers who sometimes refused to let her on.

Today Mrs Parks left Mongomery Fair, the department store where she was employed doing repairs on men's clothing, as usual.

She said she was tired after work and suffered aches and pains in her shoulders, back and neck.

When she got on the bus she realised the driver was the same man, James Blake, who had thrown her off twelve years before.

As more white people got on and the seats filled up, he asked her to give up her seat and she refused.

He threatened to call the police and she told him to go ahead.

She was subsequently arrested and charged with violating segregation law.

She will now appear in court on Monday 5 December.

Mrs Parks is a youth leader of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and her husband, Raymond, a barber, has taken part in voter registration drives.

Segregation laws

Between them the couple have worked for many years to improve the lot of black Americans in the southern United States where rigid segregation laws have been in force since the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Last year a group of professional black woman in Montgomery, the Women's Political Council, protested to the mayor about segregation on the buses, warning him they were planning a boycott.

The NAACP has also tried to challenge the laws on segregation in the courts and Mrs Parks has been involved in raising money to defend a 15-year-old student, Claudette Colvin, who was removed from a bus in March of this year for refusing to give up her seat to a white man.

In Context
Five days later, thousands of black citizens boycotted the buses in Alabama - to mark the day Mrs Parks was due in court. She was fined $10 (the equivalent of about $70 in 2003), plus $4 costs.

She challenged the verdict and the NAACP decided to use her case as a test against city and state segregation laws.

Later that same evening, the young preacher Martin Luther King addressed a crowd of several thousand at Holt Street Baptist Church and called for the boycott to continue.

Nearly all Montgomery's 40,000 black citizens took part in the bus boycott, which lasted for 381 days.

On 20 December the Supreme court upheld the decision of a lower court to end segregation on Alabama's buses.

Mrs Parks was sacked from her job and in 1957 left Montgomery for Detroit following harassment. She later became a special assistant to Democratic congressman John Conyers until her retirement in 1988.

She died in October 2005 - an icon for the civil rights movement - almost exactly 50 years after her famous bus boycott began.


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