The Beginning of the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

“The ultimate terror of racism lies in its ability to make the subjects of racism believe in their own inferiority…. Whether it was the act of signing a voter registration form for the first time, or of appearing as a witness against a white person in court, or even the bravery it sometimes took to talk to an organizer, the movement was made up of thousands of small and grand actions that chipped away or sometime dramatically swept away generations of oppression as it shaped the self-image of black people.”

(Reed, p. 6.)

Rosa Parks stood up in the face of that terror and gave life to a movement.

In December, 1955, Rosa Parks, who lived and worked in Montgomery, Alabama was arrested by the Montgomery police department for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. She was convicted of breaching the city’s segregation laws and fined $14. The black community reacted to Rosa Park’s arrest with a boycott of the bus system, which was led by a young black preacher with a Ph.D., Martin Luther King, Jr.

King was 26 years old at the time and had just graduated from Boston University with a doctorate in theology. The Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Montgomery was his first job as a minister. (Hakim, pp. 315-18.) He had been in Montgomery for only a year at the time. (Jennings and Brewster, p. 348.) He was a firm believer in Ghandian non-violent protest. (Hakim, pp. 315-18.)

During the boycott, instead of taking the busses, blacks, who constituted two-thirds of the bus ridership, walked, used taxis, car-pooled, rode bicycles and got around whichever other way they could. (Jennings and Brewster, p. 348.) The boycott lasted 381 days. White people reacted violently, harassing and beating blacks, burning and bombing houses (including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s) and churches, and firing guns. They handed out a flyer that read: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, sling shots and knives. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all whites are created equal with certain rights: among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers.” (Anderson, The Movement and The Sixties, p. 29.) The local authorities arrested boycotters including Dr. King. King became a prominent national figure due to his involvement in the Montgomery bus boycott.

“Sister Rosa,sung by The Neville Brothers, celebrates the bravery of Rosa Parks. (

December 1st, 1955
our freedom movement came alive.
And because of Sister Rosa you know
we don’t ride on the back
of the bus no more.

Now Sister Rosa,
she was tired one day
after a hard day on her job.
When all she wanted
was a well-deserved rest
not a scene from an angry mob.

The bus driver said Lady you got to get up
cause a white person wants your seat
but Miss Rosa said, no, not no more
I’m gonna stay right here
and rest my feet.

Yeah, Thank you Miss Rosa,
you were the spark
that started our freedom movement.
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.

The police came without fail
and took Sister Rosa off to jail
14 dollars was her fine.
Brother Martin Luther King
knew it was our time.
The people of Montgomery
sat down to talk.
It was decided that all God’s
children should walk
until segregation was
brought to its knees
and we obtain freedom and equality.
Thank you Miss Rosa.


So we dedicate this song to thee
for being a symbol of dignity.
Thank you Sister Rosa.


 “Rosa Parks,by Andy Glockenspiel does the same.

Rosa was a little tired after work in December
She hopped on the bus, a ride to remember
Paid in the front, and boarded in the back
Rosa got herself a seat, but the bus was packed.

A man thought he had more right than her to the seat that she sat in
She was a little tired from workin’
and very tired of being judged, by the color of her skin
Rosa wouldn’t get up, so they threw her in the slammer
This happened a lot down in Montgomery, Alabama

But she was well known in the African American Community
Used to work for the President of the NAACP
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the pastor of a local church
Called a meeting and said, the only way to fight is for
no one, to ride the bus to work.
She believed that “quiet strength” was the “pathway to freedom”

It took a year for the Supreme Court to agree with her
Segregation on transportation is unconstitutional
In the land of the free, separate can’t be equal

Mother of the Civil Rights Movement
She wears the crown
Standing up for her rights just by sitting down
Rosa Parks, can’t you see you changed history
As a nation we are grateful for eternity

Like a rose, your lesson grows more and more each day
The bus you rode has miles to go but we are on our way to be free
One woman holding a candle in the dark
and her name was Rosa Parks

“If You Miss Me in the Back of the Bus, written and sung by Betty Mae Fikes (, sung by Pete Seeger ( and The Freedom Singers (, addresses the many ways that blacks were seeking to overcome racism in the South after Rosa Parks. The Freedom Singers, a group made up of Cordell Reagon, Bernice Johnson, Charles Neblett, and Rutha Harris, were the iconic singing group of the Civil Rights Movement. They were sponsored by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Bernice Johnson referred to The Freedom Singers as “a singing newspaper.” (van Rijn, Kennedy, p. x.)

If you miss me from the back of the bus
and you can’t find me nowhere
come on up to the front of the bus
I’ll be driving up there.

If you miss me from Jackson State
and you can’t find me nowhere
come on over to “ole miss”
I’ll be studying over there.

If you miss me from knocking on doors
and you can’t find me nowhere
come on down to the registrar’s room
I’ll be the registrar there.

If you miss me from the cotton fields
and you can’t find me nowhere
come on down to the courthouse
I’ll be voting right there.

If you miss me from the picket line
and you can’t find me nowhere
come on down to the jailhouse
I’ll be rooming down there.

If you miss me from the Mississippi river
and you can’t find me nowhere
come on down to the city pool
I’ll be swimming in there.