In 1944, an incident on a Missouri Pacific bus in Pine Bluff would preview the actions of Rosa Parks that served as a catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Civil Rights Movement, and the creation of Rosa Parks Day to honor her contribution.
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Rosa Parks Day was created to honor Rosa Parks and her contribution to the American Civil Rights Movement. Today, Rosa Parks Day is celebrated twice a year in six U.S. states on February 4th, Rosa Parks’ birthday, or December 1st, the day of her arrest.
In Michigan, it was first observed on February 9, 1998, the first Monday after Rosa Parks' birthday. On February 4, 2000, the California State Legislature followed suit, enacting and celebrating their own Rosa Parks Day. In 2006, Joyce Beatty helped get Rosa Parks Day passed in Ohio. In 2014, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, made Rosa Parks Day official in their state, celebrating the holiday for the first time. In 2018, the Council of the City of New York established February 4 as Rosa Parks Day. In 2021, the Texas Legislature recognized December 1 as Rosa Parks Day.
On Thursday, December 1, 1955, 42-year-old Rosa Parks took the municipal bus after a hard day's work at the Montgomery Fair department store in Montgomery, Alabama. During that time, Jim Crow segregation was in full effect as the front of the bus was reserved for white passengers, while Black passengers were relegated to the back of the bus. Bus drivers also had the authority to ask a Black passenger to give up their seat for a white passenger.
During the route, a white man had no seat because all of the seats in the designated “white” section were taken. Consequently, the driver told the four Black passengers in the front row of the “colored” section to stand. The three other Black passengers obeyed the driver’s command, but Rosa Parks did not. Eventually, two police officers approached the stopped bus and arrested Parks. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to the Supreme Court’s decision to ban segregation on public transportation in 1956.
Before Rosa Parks became one of the catalysts for the Montgomery Bus Boycott with her act of nonviolent civil disobedience, there were numerous instances of Black passengers doing the same, including here in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In 1944, an African American war veteran refused to go to the back of a coach bus at the former Missouri Pacific Greyhound Bus Station. As a Missouri Pacific bus was preparing to go to Little Rock, a disabled WWII soldier, who took a seat near the front was asked to move to the back of the bus when another white passenger came on board. The soldier did not respond to the request, so a white passenger hurled a racial slur and punched him. Several Black passengers came to his defense, resulting in a confrontation on the bus. Like many similar instances across the U.S., this was a preview of the conflicts that would be repeated in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard