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Legal Documents Uncovered from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Including Rosa Parks’ Arrest Record

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By complete accident, a courthouse intern in Montgomery, Alabama, discovered what experts believe to be the largest surviving collection of legal documents from the Montgomery Bus Boycott. These documents include arrest records, bonds, court orders, and more, including the arrest record of Rosa Parks.

Dated December 1, 1955, the document says that Rosa Parks “did refuse to take a seat assigned to her race at the request of the driver of a City Lines Bus, in violation of Chapter 6 Section 11 of the City Code.” As history remembers well, this was the day Rosa Parks was confronted by a white man on the bus and refused to give up her seat. At the time, segregation was law, so buses were divided into “white” and “colored” sections. When the “white” section was full, the bus driver told one row of the “colored” section to stand up and move so the oncoming white man could sit. Rosa Parks refused, thus resulting in her arrest. Her arrest is largely attributed as the catalyst for the American Civil Rights movement, beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

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The uncovered records not only gave us a look back on Rosa Parks’ history, but also those participating in the boycott. “A lot of times in our schools, when we teach about the [Civil Rights] movement, it’s all centered around one person, one figure,” said Quinton T. Ross Jr., President of Alabama State University. “But what this does is open up that world to give the back story, to let them know that there were so many people that were involved.”

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was one of the first large-scale protests against segregation, beginning just four days after Rosa Parks’ arrest and lasting more than a year. Finally, on December 20, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregating bus passengers based on their race violated the 14th Amendment. The next day, the Montgomery buses were integrated, ending the boycott.

The records will be displayed at Alabama State University on loan for the next decade. “Someone knew to put them all together, but they didn’t go into a place of honor,” said circuit clerk Tiffany McCord. “That’s what they really needed.”

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News Sources: The New York Times, History (here and here)