History of the Boycott through Images & Documents

Cleveland Avenue Bus

Cleveland Avenue Bus

The Cleveland Avenue bus Rosa Parks was riding when she was arrested.
Courtesy: Henry Ford Museum (http://www.thehenryford.org/)

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks waited for the Cleveland Avenue bus to take her home from her job as a seamstress at Montgomery Fair. She let a full bus go by before she finally boarded the bus being driven by James F. Blake. Blake had ejected Parks from his bus in 1943 for boarding from the front (she refused to pay, get off, then get on again at the back), and Parks usually waited for another bus if she saw Blake driving. Years later, when asked, Parks said that the reason why she got on the bus, even though she had a history of trouble with Blake, was that she was “tired” that night. She sat down in an empty seat in the middle section of the bus, just behind the “Whites Only” section.

Each of the Montgomery city buses had 36 seats. The front 10 were reserved for white passengers. The back 10 were reserved for black passengers. The middle 16 created an area where the racial lines constantly changed at the whims of the driver. The city ordinance allowed bus drivers to ask individuals to give up their seats or move to the section assigned to their race “if there is such a seat vacant.” In reality, though, bus drivers asked African-Americans to move from the middle section anytime a white passenger had to stand, even if there were no other seats vacant. Local custom also dictated that whites and blacks could not sit in the same row, so if one white person sat down, all the black people in that row had to stand.

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