Sixty years ago, on February 21, 1956, a Montgomery grand jury indicted 89 leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, including Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, for violating a 1921 state statute forbidding boycotts without “just cause.”
Grand jurors repudiated anti-segregation efforts in the grand jury report that accompanied the indictment. “In this state we are committed to segregation by custom and law; we intend to maintain it,” the grand jury wrote. “The settlement of differences over school attendance, public transportation and other facilities must be made within those laws which reflect our way of life.”
The indicted boycott leaders surrendered themselves into custody at the police station, where Ms. Parks was photographed (above) being fingerprinted. Hundreds of African American supporters gathered outside in a show of support for their efforts to challenge racial discrimination and fight segregation in Alabama.
A new resource-rich website tells the story of Ms. Parks, an activist whose role in the struggle for equal justice far surpassed her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus on December 1, 1955. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks uses Jeanne Theoharis’s book by the same name and archival sources, including papers from the newly-opened Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress, to trace Ms. Parks’s half-century of activism.
Ms. Parks’s work for racial justice long preceded her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. She joined the local NAACP as the chapter’s only woman member in 1943, and traveled throughout Alabama to interview Black people who had suffered racial terror, violence, or other injustice.
On the night of her arrest, local activists began organizing what would become the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After the boycott ended successfully, Ms. Parks faced death threats and was barred from steady employment. In 1957, she and her family moved from Montgomery to Detroit, where she continued to fight for racial and social justice. In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, she advocated for reform in the criminal justice system, education, housing, employment, public assistance, and foreign policy.