You from Montgomery, AL? Need help with some Rosa Parks / bus boycott questions

Trying to nail down a bunch of niggling little details of circumstances and events leading up to the boycott: the kind of details that sometimes get omitted from the history books, but that people who’ve followed, or were involved in the events and times, might recall.

  1. Like – how much was the bus fare in 1955? Or in 1943, twelve years earlier, when Parks first ran afoul of the same driver? (Parks says he made her pay her fare, then exit the bus to re-board in the rear door, but then drove off without her)

  2. Where (on what street) was the 1955 arrest made? (I assume the driver stopped the bus and waited on police, gave his statement, then resumed his route – if any of that is inaccurate, please correct me.)

  3. The bus driver was James F. Blake – but does anyone know the name of the passenger she refused to give up her seat for? Has this been recorded anywhere? (First person to suggest “Forrest Gump” gets pimpslapped)

  4. Is there a copy of the actual police arrest report available on-line or in a book somewhere?

  5. I’ve often seen the pictures of her being fingerprinted – but did Rosa Parks get a mug shot? Is this available anywhere?

  6. What was the name/number of the bus route where this occured? I went here to get some info, but I suspect the bus routes have been changed since 1955. Was it called the “Red Line” in 1955 or did it go by some other name?

  7. What was the original name of “Rosa Parks Avenue” before it was changed?

  8. Am I correct in thinking that the Cleveland Courts housing projects is where she lived in the 1950’s?

  9. Every bio I see says Parks was a seamstress. Where was she employed? Approximately how far was her job from her home?

  10. When the boycott commenced, how did she get to work? Were their any reprisals against Parks at her job for her part in the boycott?

Switching gears:

  1. Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council mimeographed thousands of fliers urging blacks to stay off the buses for an intial one-day boycott. Do copies of those fliers still exist in book or on-line somewhere? If you can’t provide a link, what was the text?

  2. What percentage of blacks comprised the bus companies’ passengers? How much money did the Montgomery City bus service lose in the year long boycott? Were there any layoffs of drivers/ mechanics, etc. during the boycott?

  3. Where is James F. Blake now? Has he expressed any regret for his actions?

Thanking anyone and everyone who can help in advance.

Askia Hale

Can’t answer any of your questions offhand, but the book My Soul is Rested by Howell Raines contains some excellent first-hand accounts of the events leading up to the boycott, and details of the boycott itself. Maybe some of the answers can be found in there.

(on #12–I can’t remember the exact figures, but blacks did comprise a majority of the bus company’s passengers, and there was something like 90% participation in the boycott. I know those numbers can be found in the above book.)

Another thought: The excellent documentary Eyes on the Prize and its accompanying book might have those details. It should be pretty easy to find the videotapes of the documentary as they are widely used in college history courses. Any big university library (or even public library!) should have them. Eyes on the Prize is on several tapes, as it is hours and hours long. Make sure you get the right “episode.”

I have to hand it to you, Askia, you are quite adept at getting others to do your homework for you. Do we get to share in your degree? Is your interest in black history so low that you can’t do this research yourself? How do you expect to learn when others do the work for you? In my day, we had to do the work ourselves.

Could I submit another question. Do I understand correctly that Rosa Parks not giving her seat up was a planned event by black leaders? Was another individual selected but rejected because her background wasn’t “spotless” and an older more humble Rosa Parks was chosen as the more respectable “victim” to start the movement?

This is stuff that I only partially remember someone talking about and don’t know if it has any truth to it or is racially motivated revisionist clap-trap.

You remember well, Grasshopper. You are exactly correct. The event was entirely preconceived and planned. There were several other “candidates” who were rejected. Rosa Parks was already involved in the nascent movement, she had no skeletons in her closet, and she was willing to do it, so she was chosen.

The fact that it was pre-planned should in no way diminish our assessment of Rosa Parks’ courage and bravery. In fact, I find her all the more heroic because she wasn’t driven to do it by sheer exhaustion–she knew exactly what she was getting into. She only paid a $14 fine, but she knew damn well she could have paid with her life.

As the Neville Brothers say: “Thank you Miss Rosa, you were the spark, that started our freedom movement. Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.”

Sorry, forgot to answer this part of your question.

The common version of the story is actually more “racially motivated revisionist clap-trap” than the real story.

In the common version, Rosa Parks plays the part of the “noble savage,” who through her weakness (she was too tired to get up) and her ignorance (she didn’t realize the implications of her actions) inspired the poor, downtrodden folks of Montgomery to boycott–and thus started the Civil Rights Movement.

What really happened was that the Movement was already underway, and the leaders (the young MLK among them) figured that a bus boycott would be a very effective way to make a crack in the wall of segregation. They had already figured out alternative transportation plans and everything before Dec. 1. They knew that a boycott would have huge particiaption. (Though far more people ultimately boycotted than they expected.) All they needed was an agent provocateur, and that’s where Rosa Parks came in.

Basically, the common version doesn’t give Ms. Parks and MLK and the rest very much credit for being really smart and clever about the whole thing. If you tell the story as being something that “just happened,” then you are reinforcing the idea of blacks as unsophisticated rubes. If you include the part about the whole thing being carefully planned and executed, then you are showing the blacks as smart and savvy folks that really managed to put one over on the whites!

Man, MLK was brilliant

Here’s the person you don’t hear about in that story.
Edgar Daniel Nixon was a Pullman car porter and past president of the Montgomery NAACP. He’s the guy who decided Rosa Parks was the right person for the job (there had been two other arrests that led to nothing).
He was also the guy who talked a reluctant Martin Luther King Jr., taking a role in the actions. Mr. Nixon determined that the new pastor “didn’t have the baggage” that a lot of other potential leaders had. He had to go back three times before he got a nod.
Mr. Nixon was still alive during early taping of “Eyes on the Prize” and appeared in an interview. He died on February 25, 1987.

Oldmaid85, please don’t assume facts not in evidence.

I disagree somewhat with the exchanges between Sigene and Green Bean.

This article by Liza Cozzens was one of the first, and best on-line resources I found for information pertaining to the boycott. I’d also culled information from the ‘Eyes On the Prize’ documentary and the Winter 2001 edition of AMERICAN LEGACY Magazine, which contains an excellent interview with Rosa Parks’ biographer, Douglas Brinkley. (That particular issue is not on-line yet.) Among these, we find:

  1. Rosa Parks did not plan her actions prior to boarding the bus. I sincerely believe it was a spontaneous refusal. She has always said so. The only deception involved was that Parks was, and is, far more than the simple seamstress she has been depicted. The actions of people like E.D. Nixon (who didn’t know what happened to her, and had rush to post bond to get her out) strongly suggests no one knew what she had done until after her arrest. To say black leaders “planned” this seems much too calculated. “Planned to take advantage of something like this” seems more accurate.

  2. The most-mentioned ‘rejected’ candidate was then-15-year old Claudette Clovin. But shortly after her arrest, Nixon was told Clovin was pregnant. As any prosecutor would have had a field day assaulting her character with that information, she was immediately dropped from consideration.

  3. The evidence I’ve seen does not show that the meetings on December 3rd and 4th 1955 were planned any earlier than a day or two before or that the scope of the boycott was decided before Monday evening, December 5th. Some things, like the mimeographing and disseminating of the 40,000 leaflets announcing the boycott by Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council was probably planned beforehand, but remember: she thought it was for a one-day boycott. (That’s one of the reasons I asked if anyone knew the text of the fliers, to see if that’s right.) As Doug Bowe pointed out, they didn’t even have a leader until Nixon brought in King.

  4. Rosa Parks did have one skeleton in her closet: she’d had a run-in with that SAME BUS DRIVER twelve years earlier. (See my first post). The fact that she might have been motivated to do this based on a decade-long personal grudge is probably the most hilarious and humanizing aspect of this whole effort. I can’t agree with characterizing Mrs. Rosa Parks as an ‘agent provocateur’; it suggests she was sent on the bus for the sole purpose of getting arrested. Who sent her? E.D. Nixon? Unlikely. Dr. MLK? They hadn’t even met yet. Her husband, Raymond? He was scared to death for her.

Nah. I think Parks rode the bus home she always did, but that day, she just got good and pissed when THAT driver yelled at her, and absolutely refused to move for him.

  1. Please cite where you have seen where “alternative transportation plans were made before ‘Dec.1st’. I see no evidence of that.

  2. Were they geniuses? Well, it’s hard to argue with a Nobel laureate, and they had lots to be commended for. I think they benefited a lot from favorable circumstances and a sympathetic victim. Also, the end-of the year timing of the start of the boycott helped, I’m sure. I think many people just don’t get the depth of human resolve and on-the spot initiative involved in the boycott and the private agendas several of the principals involved probably had.

NOW that I’ve proven I can do research, will somebody puh-leeze answer some of MY original questions??


I was all ready to look up some cites for you, (and also explain why random websites and American Heritage publications are not considered reliable academic sources) until I read the above.

If anybody else is interested, I’d be happy to provide the cites.

Green Bean: If you’re critical because a website is ‘random’ or a publication is ‘not a reliable academic source’ – you seem to be basing your assessment on location rather than the merit of the content. Think about it.

Green Bean, if I’m reading the above correctly, that quote you referenced by Askia K. Hale was in response to Oldmaid85’s statement that Askia was just getting folks to do her homework for her. Askia was just saying (appropriately, I would say) that she was not trying to avoid doing all the work.

If you have something to add, then feel free to do so. If you would prefer not to add to the discussion, then it’s bad form to say why you’re not helping.

No, Chronos. Askia K. Hale disagreed with my earlier statements. I would have been happy to look up cites to back up my statements. He said “puh-leeze answer MY original questions.” In other words, he is not interested in discussing these points, so I’m not going to go through the trouble. If anyone else is interested, I would be happy to discuss the events leading up to the bus boycott.

Askia–Why do you assume the content of a random website is reliable? In other words, if your credentials/experience are such that you are able to judge the content of that website as a reliable source, why don’t you know where to find the answers to the questions of the OP?

So, yes, I am basing my assessment of the source on the “location” rather than the “content.” I prefer to use non-anonymous peer-reviewed books and journals as my source materials.

Think about it.

Green Bean: I apologize to you, and anyone else who reads this, for my behavior.

I posted THISthread at the same time I wrote this one. As you can see, I have been slightly nuts from the noise in my ears for about 4 days now, although I finally have an appointment with a ENT doctor tomorrow morning. I have been worried, restless, cranky, distracted and sleep-deprived since I woke up Friday morning. It was in this, frankly, foul mood I responded to your post, where my tone was smart-alecky and dismissive of the facts you presented earnestly. That was wrong.

You’re right: I didn’t want you respond, much as I didn’t want to hear Oldmaid85 try and accuse me of being lazy and manipulative for posting this thread simply because I asked a bunch of difficult-to-answer questions. If I took a high and mighty tone with you, it was because I was REALLY annoyed with Oldmaid’s post, which preceded yours. Poor judgment; I like to think if I wasn’t feeling so badly, I wouldn’t have done it.

Anyway. Know that my experience/credentials are simply that of a fairly well-read person who – right now – hasn’t access to the books and texts he’d like in order to investigate some of the questions he’s asked. I plan to send e-mails to the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, City Transit Service and Public Library to see if I could get answers to my questions that way. I mean, READ the durn questions: some of them aren’t going to be answered unless you’re a knowledgable native of Montgomery (street names, bus fares, bus routes, etc.) or a tireless fact junkie.

Finally, I do take issue with this so-called “random” site I posted. I assure you, of the fourteen sites or so I read through for my project, I did not select ANY of them at random. It’s hardly an ‘anonymous’ site – the link to author Lisa Cozzens is on the home page, and Cozzens includes a bibliography of the 30+ sources she used for her series of articles. The report itself seemed clear, well-written, with multiple citations in MLA format, and I had little reason to doubt its overall accuracy. As former editor of my college newspaper, I was trained to write stories with corroboration from as many different relevant sources whenever possible. A consensus of fact works much the same way as a consensus of opinion – better, actually, because fewer people disagree on correct facts.

What puzzles me is what you have against American Heritage periodicals and the interview I’ve cited. Most of the articles I have read in American Legacymagazine have been very informative and scholarly, if written for a general audience. I read journals, too. But a true fact is a true fact, whether I read it from Parks’ autobiography or the back of a General Mills cereal box.

If there are facts in error, please, really, honestly – point 'em out. Debunk, refute and cite away! Or not.

Think about it?

Just wanted to add my two cents that Rosa Parks was actually the Secretary for the local NAACP chapter, and so I submit that this nice lady knew exactly what she was doing when she refused to give up her seat. It’s still a wonderful story, but people shouldn’t believe the nice tired old lady who didn’t want to get up and move.

Askia- Fair 'nuff. I have to go to work now, but when I get home, I’ll see what I can do to dig up some of those answers for you.

(And I fully agree that Oldmaid’s post was…strange. Those were some very hard to answer questions.)