‘Tired of Giving In’: The Arrest Report, Mug Shot and Fingerprints of Rosa Parks (December 1, 1955)


On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks took her fate­ful bus ride in Mont­gomery, Alaba­ma.

As the sto­ry is often told, Parks was a diminu­tive African-Amer­i­can seam­stress who was weary from a long day of work at a down­town depart­ment store. Her feet ached, so when the dri­ver ordered her to give up her seat to a white man who had just got­ten on the bus, Parks refused, acci­dent­ly set­ting into motion a series of events that led to the mod­ern Civ­il Rights Move­ment.

The prob­lem with the sto­ry, told in that way, is that it is gross­ly mis­lead­ing.

Besides being a seam­stress, Parks was a polit­i­cal orga­niz­er and activist, a mem­ber of the Mont­gomery Vot­ers League and sec­re­tary of the local chap­ter of the NAACP. And while it’s true that Parks did­n’t know when she board­ed the bus that day that she would com­mit an act of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, when the moment arose she knew what she was doing, and why. As Parks lat­er wrote in her auto­bi­og­ra­phy:

Peo­ple always say that I did­n’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired phys­i­cal­ly, or no more tired than I usu­al­ly was at the end of a work­ing day. I was not old, although some peo­ple have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giv­ing in.


Parks was not the first black per­son to be arrest­ed in 1955 for refus­ing to give up a seat on Mont­gomery’s racial­ly seg­re­gat­ed bus­es. There was a grow­ing sense in the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty that the time was ripe for change. The pre­vi­ous year, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its land­mark deci­sion in Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion, declar­ing that seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic schools was uncon­sti­tu­tion­al.

The Wom­en’s Polit­i­cal Coun­cil in Mont­gomery was already lay­ing the ground­work for a boy­cott of the city bus sys­tem when it learned of Parks’ arrest. Giv­en the respect and sup­port Parks had with­in the com­mu­ni­ty, the group decid­ed it was an oppor­tune moment to take action. A one-day boy­cott was held on the day of Park­s’s tri­al (she was con­vict­ed of vio­lat­ing Chap­ter 6, Sec­tion 11 of the Mont­gomery City Code and ordered to pay a $10 fine plus $4 in court costs) and a longer one was launched short­ly after­ward, crip­pling the finances of the com­pa­ny that ran the bus sys­tem, which typ­i­cal­ly derived over 75 per­cent of its fare rev­enue from African-Amer­i­can pas­sen­gers. That boy­cott last­ed more than a year, until late Decem­ber of 1956, when the Supreme Court upheld a low­er court rul­ing in Brow­der, et al v. Gayle that the seg­re­ga­tion of Mont­gomery’s bus sys­tem was uncon­sti­tu­tion­al.


The doc­u­ments shown here were sub­mit­ted as evi­dence in Brow­der v. Gayle. The arrest report (above) states that Parks was sit­ting in the white sec­tion of the bus. Actu­al­ly, she had com­plied with the law when she first entered, sit­ting down behind the first 10 seats which were per­ma­nent­ly reserved for whites. (See the chart below; the front of the bus is at the top of the chart, with the dri­ver’s seat des­ig­nat­ed by an “X.”) Under Mont­gomery law, the bus dri­ver had the dis­cre­tion to move blacks far­ther back when the white sec­tion filled up. Black peo­ple paid the same fare as whites, but were often ordered to exit the bus after pay­ing the fare and re-enter through the back door. In stand­ing-room-only con­di­tions, they were not allowed even to stand next to white peo­ple.


At rush hour on Dec. 1, 1955, the bus was fill­ing up as Parks and three oth­er African-Amer­i­cans sat in the first row behind the white sec­tion. When a white man entered the bus, the dri­ver James F. Blake ordered Parks and the oth­er three to leave their seats and move back, where they would all have to stand. After hes­i­tat­ing, the oth­ers got up but Parks stayed seat­ed. In The Rebel­lious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theo­haris recon­structs the scene:

Blake want­ed the seats. “I had police pow­ers — any dri­ver did.”  The bus was crowd­ed and the ten­sion height­ened as Blake walked back to her. Refus­ing to assume a def­er­en­tial posi­tion, Parks looked him straight in the eye.

Blake asked, “Are you going to stand up?”

Parks replied, “No.” She then told him she was not going to move  “because I got on first and paid the same fare, and I did­n’t think it was right for me to stand so some­one else who got on lat­er could sit down.”

“Well, I’m going to have you arrest­ed.”

“You may do that,” Parks replied.

via: Nation­al Archives

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