Rosa Parks: Interpretation 1

David J. Garrow

"The Origins of the Montgomery Bus Boycott"

While many schoolchildren are familiar with the common account of Rosa Parks’s arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus, Garrow’s interpretation provides a more sophisticated look at those events. Garrow’s Rosa Parks was not merely a tired African-American woman who made a spontaneous decision to keep her seat. Rather, she was a knowing participant in an organized attempt to make social change in the segregated South. Two aspects of the protest are noteworthy. First is the organization behind the movement. Garrow points out that organized black activism existed in Montgomery for at least six years before Parks’s arrest. However, factionalism and disunity within the organization had hampered previous protests. Indeed, at least two other black women had previously been arrested for precisely the same offense, but their arrests had not prompted any significant organized response.

In addition, Parks’s arrest and the subsequent boycott were so well managed that their success is attributable to the planning of the events. The arrest and protest had been planned long before they happened, and Parks had been chosen precisely because her character and dignity made her a sympathetic character.

David J. Garrow, "The Origins of the Montgomery Bus Boycott," Southern Changes (Vol. 7, No. 5, 1985) 21-27.