Tag Archives: primary source

Rosa Parks and the 60th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

1 Dec
Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Source: Ebony Magazine

December 1, 2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott, a pivotal event in the history of the Civil Rights movement, began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on December 1, 1955. She was arrested, sparking a year long boycott and protest, and a Supreme Court case which ended segregation on public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.

Ms. Parks had been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) throughout the 1940’s and the incident in 1955 was not the first time she had objected to the segregated bus laws. It wasn’t until 1955 that she was arrested, and this incident brought Ms. Parks to national prominence as well as a local preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. Both went on to play major roles in the Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks was interviewed by Blackside for “Eyes on the Prize” in 1985. In this interview she gives a very detailed history of her previous interactions with various Montgomery bus drivers, the oppressive atmosphere for African-Americans in the South at that time, and how the boycott unfolded after December 1, 1955.

The full interview can be read via the Film and Media Archive’s website. This interview was preserved as part of a grant from the Mellon Foundation and will be digitized as part of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

From the interview:

And when he saw me still sitting, and that had left the three seats vacant, except where I was, he asked me if I was going to stand up and I said, no I’m not. And he said, well, if you, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you, call the police and have you arrested. I said you may do that. And he did get off the bus and stayed for a few minutes and I still stayed where I was and when two policemen came on the bus, the driver pointed me out and he said that he needed the seats and other three stood, that one, he just said that one would not. And when the policeman approached me one of them spoke and asked me if the bus driver had asked me to stand and I said yes. He said, why don’t you stand up? I said, I don’t think I should have to stand up. And I asked him, why do you push us around? He said, I do not know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.

— Rosa Parks

Blackside interviewed other people who were involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, including E.D. Nixon, Jo Ann Robinson and Ralph Abernathy. More interviews can be found here: Eyes on the Prize Interviews, The Complete Series.

For more information about any of these interviews, please contact the Film and Media Archive.

 

Nicholas Katzenbach

14 May
Image

Film still of Nicholas Katzenbach from “Eyes on the Prize I”

Nicholas Katzenbach, who was involved in several major incidents of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, died on May 8, 2012. He was 90 years old. Katzenbach was interviewed for the Blackside series, Eyes on the Prize I.

As Deputy U.S. Attorney General, under Robert Kennedy, Katzenbach was instrumental in the desegregation of both the University of Alabama and the University of Mississippi. In one incident captured by the media, he confronted Governor George Wallace in what would become known as the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.” Wallace eventually stepped aside and Katzenbach escorted the students who were able to register for classes.

His interview for Eyes on the Prize I, covered a wide range of topics from the encounter with Wallace to the violent clashes that occurred when the University of Mississippi was desegregated with the enrollment of James Meredith. Meredith’s attempt to attend the university was met with riots, violence, and the deployment of federal troops. Katzenbach was in Oxford, Mississippi at that moment and described it in his interview:

There the highway patrol was in front, marshals were lined up around the building, and the governor had said the highway patrol would stay and maintain order. The students were shouting a lot of taunts, throwing matches occasionally, that kind of thing and the highway patrol did not stay. The head of the highway patrol was there and he just suddenly ordered his people away, and as soon as the highway patrol drove out, it was almost as though that was a signal to people for the riot to begin…we had had reports throughout,not merely the students, but of all kinds of people pouring in, in cars, in order to prevent Meredith from being admitted to to Old Miss. One has to remember also that that was the squirrel hunting season in Mississippi so there were literally hundreds, thousands of guns. Every pickup truck had a couple of guns in it, so that the situation was really very dangerous.

Katzenbach also helped draft and defend the the landmark Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which addressed the huge problem of systematic African-American voter discrimination. This bill was spurred on by the events of Bloody Sunday in Selma, another event where Katzenbach helped negotiate the federal protection of march from Selma to Montgomery.

At the end of his interview, he summarized what he felt the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 had accomplished:

I think what existed and had existed in the South really as a result of slavery was a caste system that was effectively enforced by state law and by state officials. I think that system was broken by the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts. So that I think that was broken, and broken forever. So you didn’t have any more state enforced segregation. Now the fact that you don’t have state enforced segregation doesn’t solve the problems of discrimination, it doesn’t solve the problems of people’s feelings, it doesn’t solve the problems of education, it doesn’t give blacks who have been denied an education don’t automatically become well educated and well qualified to do things. And those problems have remained. And while I think a good deal of progress has been made with respect to those problems in my judgment, they aren’t solved yet today, but I do think the problem of state enforced segregation has effectively been resolved and that you can’t turn the clock back on that.

To read the entire text of this interview, or to read other interviews from Eyes on the Prize, visit the Film & Media Archive’s and Digital Library Service’s joint project, Eyes on the Prize Interviews: The Complete Series.