Montgomery, Ala., Celebrates 60th Anniversary Of Bus Boycott

Dec 1, 2015
Originally published on December 4, 2015 2:28 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Sixty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. That active resolve sparked a movement that would dismantle the nation's segregation laws. Montgomery is commemorating that history today, and NPR's Debbie Elliott is there.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: On the street corner where Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, actors staged a re-enactment of what happened on the Cleveland Avenue bus. The 42-year-old seamstress on her way home from work was seated in the first row of the black section of the bus. But the white section up front was full and more passengers wanted to sit down.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As bus driver) Girl, let that men have your seat. Don't you see him standing there?

ELLIOTT: Rosa Parks ignored the bus driver's orders and stayed put.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) She made a decision...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As bus character) You're going to need to get up and let this man have the seat.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) ...That would not only challenge...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As bus character) If you don't get up now, I will arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) ...The Jim Crow laws in Montgomery...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As bus character) You're under arrest - disorderly conduct.

ELLIOTT: The remembrance is part of a week of events honoring Parks and organizers of the Montgomery bus boycott, led by a young Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a group called the Montgomery Improvement Association. Chris Cummings from Birmingham was in the audience. His daughter was one of the bus riders on stage. He says the story is relevant today.

CHRIS CUMMINGS: Just to have the opportunity to just reflect back, see how far we've come but still understanding that there's still a ways to go and how we deal with race relations.

ELLIOTT: Also today at the Montgomery church where Martin Luther King was pastor in 1955, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said the nation's laws and policies still fall short.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: So even as we celebrate all that our country has achieved in the past 60 years, we must, in keeping with the legacy of those who have gone before, look to the future and the work that is left to do.

ELLIOTT: On downtown streets earlier, the Montgomery Improvement Association marched with a message of keep moving forward.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Ain't going to let nobody turn me around, we're going to keep on walking, keeping on talking.

ELLIOTT: Loyd Howard, president of the Montgomery Improvement Association Foundation, recalls how African-Americans banded together to stay off city buses for more than a year in protest of Rosa Parks' arrest.

LOYD HOWARD: It changed the world, not just in Montgomery, it changed the world. I mean, sure, we set out to change the conditions on the bus. But that was just the first start. We had to win that in order to move forward.

ELLIOTT: Patricia Brown was only 5 years old at the time, but says the boycott altered the course of her life. That's why she wanted to be a part of today's remembrance.

PATRICIA BROWN: Montgomery is my birthplace and this is where I've lived all my life, so it's been a part of who I am. Living in the city at the birthplace of the civil rights has meant so much. But to be here and share in this occasion, I wouldn't have missed it.

ELLIOTT: By her teens, Brown was part of the civil rights movement. She was one of the first African-American students to integrate public high schools here. She says it's remarkable how much change has come in 60 years.

BROWN: Because when I was a younger girl, there was colored and white bathrooms. We would enter through the back door right here on Dexter Avenue at Weber's Store and Kress's Store. We would go to the back where it said color.

ELLIOTT: Brown says her grandchildren use the front door now, thanks in part to what Rosa Parks did back in 1955. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Montgomery. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.