Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 1, 1955 – Rosa Parks Riot Begins

Ninety years after the Civil War had been won, maintaining the Union and also securing rights to Black slaves, the African Americans had left behind unwilling servitude but still suffered as second-class citizens throughout the United States. While many of the actions against them such as the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and the mob violence of lynching were extra-legal, Jim Crow laws attempted to make certain that the precedent of "Separate but Equal" kept African Americans separate but never fully equal. Simply because of the darker nature of their skin, they were not allowed in public swimming pools, refused service at restaurants, made to drink from separate water fountains, and, of course, made to ride in the back of public buses.

One evening in Montgomery, Alabama, an African American woman named Rosa Parks was returning from work, sitting in the appropriate Black section of the bus. When the White section was filled and several White men still needed seats, bus driver James Blake asked Mrs. Parks to stand, and the woman refused. Blake threatened to call the police, and Parks said he may. As Blake turned to do just that, he tripped and fell, bloodying his nose. Leaping to his feet, he accused the woman of tripping him, and the bloody nose turned to an all-out riot. For nearly three days, Montgomery was turned to pandemonium while fighting spread throughout Alabama. Most notoriously, on the second day, a meeting organized by local NAACP president E.D. Nixon taking place at the church of Martin Luther King, Jr., was raided by angry Whites, leaving both men and several others dead.

The potential for civil disobedience suddenly evaporated throughout the South, and sentiment turned violently opposed to integration on both sides. Efforts toward desegregation, by people such as Jackie Robinson and his famed court-martial when refusing to enter a military bus by the back door, suddenly evaporated. Rumored to be caused by threats and negative public opinion, the case of Browder v. Gayle upheld segregation law.

While the South erupted in violence for years to come, the North would see a new campaign arise from the Nation of Islam. Under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, the Nation drew great attention to the older notion of the Back-to-Africa movement. Segregation seemed unbeatable; now was the time to make the separation geographical as well as legal. As conditions grew unbearable, political connections began to grow in Washington under the Kennedy administration. Part of later president LBJ's Great Society called for federal funding in grants for the reopening of colonization in Liberia. Over the course of the 1960s and '70s, hundreds of thousands of African Americans would cross the Atlantic back to their once-native continent.

Political relations with the growing Liberia among the US remained strained. American Marines were able to help halt an attempted coup in 1980, and the two both condemned Communism (though for differing reasons), but Liberia continued to call for the equivocation of rights among non-white Americans that frustrated diplomats. With the end of apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s, the world community turned to the United States in anticipation of similar actions. While some concessions have been made, Separate but Equal continued to maintain rule. As the new millennium began and increasing numbers of Hispanic Americans expand the minority into another voting bloc, advocates hope that another chance at equality may come soon, but only if alliances among white and non-white activist groups can be made.

In reality, the Rosa Parks bus incident began quietly. Blake did not trip, but he did call the police. Parks' arrest served as a great symbol for the growing campaign to end segregation, seemingly better suited than the arrest of Claudette Colvin in a similar incident a few months earlier. With Parks as a symbol and Colvin's case victorious in federal court, the road to equality began to open by means of civil disobedience.


  1. in Rosa Parks slips through the net set in a dystopian world where Nazidom won out, we imagine RP as a latter day Harriet Tubman, a freedom fighter operating a re-activated Underground Railroad.

  2. We revisit the ideas in this timeline in our article FBI outs Michael King.


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