Rosa Parks, Interviewed by Don Jelinek
June 16, 1977

See Montgomery Bus Boycott for background & more information.
See also Montgomery Bus Boycott for web links.

Jelinek: Could I start off by asking where you where you were born?

Parks: I was born in Tuskegee Alabama.

Jelinek: Oh, I spent a lot of time there at the institute. You were born in 1912 right?

Parks: 1913.

Jelinek: 1913. And were you raised in Tuskegee?

Parks: No. I wasn't. I don't even remember moving, I don't remember ever living there.

Jelinek: And where were you raised then?

Parks: Montgomery County in Alabama.

Jelinek: And so that's where you spent the rest of your life up until 1955, in Alabama? r

Parks: In Montgomery? Well, not in the city all the time but, at least most of the time.

Jelinek: And, did you go to school there too?

Parks: I did.

Jelinek: And how far did you go to school Mrs. Parks?

Parks: Finished high school.

Jelinek: What kind of work did you do prior to working as a seamstress?

Parks: Well, I had done a number of things. Working on the farm, domestic work, and a long time I worked at the field and did some insurance with West Atlanta Life Insurance.

Jelinek: I'd like to ask you. You were a member of the church in Montgomery — Dr. King's church?

Parks: No, I was a member of St. Paul's AME church, African Methodist Episcopal church and he was the minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist church.

Jelinek: You were, were you what you would call a leader of your church?

Parks: Well I was a regular attending member. And I was a member of a women's group called the "studious board"

Jelinek: I also understand that you were with the NAACP.

Parks: Yes I was

Jelinek: How early did you join the NAA?

Parks: Back in the early 1940s, I think it was around 1943.

Jelinek: That must've been quite a dangerous act in those days to join the NAACP. Wasn't it?

Parks: It wasn't such a dangerous thing to join the NAACP at that time because we had a very small branch that was not strong enough to be a threat to the community.

Jelinek: I see. How large a group was it? Your NAACP in the early days?

Parks: I can't remember exact membership, but, sometimes we would get between ... At different times, now there was a time I was the secretary for a number of years. Do you know Mr. E.D. Nixon? It was {unclear} it was about like, we got, if we got a thousand members, we were doing rather well, but {unclear}. I think the numbers dropped a little bit because {unclear}. I would say we would have between 3, 4, 500 at times.

Jelinek: And Mr. Nixon was the ...

Parks: He was there some of the time and sometimes he wasn't

Jelinek: Did you have a position in the NAA? And then when we organized the Youth Council, I was a member of the Youth Council.

Jelinek: Before the Brown v Board of Education decision, what type of stuff did the NAACP do, in Alabama... in Montgomery?

Parks: Well, if we had any complaints from various people — most people [who] were victims of any type of act that the NAACP could participate in were reluctant to come forward to make a complaint — file an affidavit that they had been violated.

Jelinek: But what if somebody did, what would you do then?

Parks: If somebody came to us and made a complaint? If there was a lawyer there who would accept the case, we would try to take the call.

Jelinek: You had Mr. Peter Hall right?

Parks: He was in Birmingham Alabama.

Jelinek: Who were the two lawyers in Montgomery?

Parks: At the time of my arrest the lawyers were Fred Gray and and Charles Langford. Solomon Seay had not passed the bar exam. He was taking the examination.

Jelinek: What I am most interested in is 1954, which is the year before your movement on the bus, when Brown v. Board of Education was decided, what effect did it have on you? What did it mean to you when the Supreme Court said that separate but equal segregation is not legal?

Parks: Well, at the time of the decision, it gave me some hope that legally we would be able to ... racial segregation in school, and that if the parents would sign a petition and go to the Board of Education, and the decision could be implemented that would mean better opportunities for the black children to have a better education.

Jelinek: Was there any sense of more of a movement developing in that year, in 1954, because of the decision?

Parks: Very little in Montgomery. There were about 16 parents who signed the petition that we had to file with the Board of Education. And I'm afraid it was done in 1954

Jelinek: I read something about, that you went the next summer to this Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and that somebody said there that Montgomery Negroes were too timid and they wouldn't act. And that seemed to be the feeling at the time. Was that true?

Parks: About the school desegregation?

Jelinek: Yeah.

Parks: Well, as I said, out of all the parents then who had school-aged children, I believe we had 16 who signed the petition to file with the board of education.

Jelinek: Did you file that petition with the 16?

Parks: It was done by the president of our local branch of NAACP

Jelinek: Mr. Nixon?

Parks: Not at the time, it wasn't. The president, I think it was ... Robert L. Matthews was president. It took some time to get it filed. He was {unclear}.

Jelinek: What was this Highlander Folk School? Was this a real school?

Parks: Well, it was somewhat informal, and it was organized by Miles Horton for people to learn to, I guess get together and talk about racial segregation in an informal setting and discuss whatever problems that was in the various communities.

Jelinek: It was sort of early workshops I guess huh? Parks: Workshops. Yes.

Jelinek: And at the time of the... This gets us to the actual bus [boycott], and I know how many times you must have talked about this, so forgive me for asking to go through it again. But, it's such a significant event. Was anything happening right before that, in Montgomery that triggered off your reaction?

Parks:Was anything happening?

Jelinek: Was anything special happening in Montgomery the week before you got arrested in the bus.

Parks: The only thing that I was involved with was the NAACP Youth Council planning a workshop for the youth on the first week in December. We were planning to have the workshop for two days. That was the only {unclear} the 3rd and 4th of December, which would be that Saturday Sunday, and I was arrested that Thursday.

Jelinek: What was the workshop to be about?

Parks: It was the NAACP [youth] council workshop and it was pertaining to preparing young people, getting them acquainted with the fact that we were working towards desegregation of all facilities, not just of schools alone. But doing away with the racial enforced segregation

Jelinek: In the South?

Parks: In Montgomery that was the part where we were concerned with.

Jelinek: And how were you gonna do this?

Parks: The only thing we could do was working with the NAACP, was try to have what we called "test cases" to go into schools and declare racial segregation {unclear}

Jelinek: That's what I thought. At one point I read Miles Horton making a statement that it was passive resistance, instead of more conventional means — by that he meant going to court. Right? There was no sort of violence right?

Parks: No.

Jelinek: Okay. On this December 1st, what kind of day had you had before you got on the bus?

Parks: I think when I had my work to do and finished the day, I didn't {unclear} well, I wasn't very ...

Jelinek: What kind of work were you doing that day?

Parks: I was working at men's alterations at the Taylor Shop at the Montgomery {unclear} department store

Jelinek: Working, sewing?

Parks: Yes, sewing and pressing.

Jelinek: And this was now Thursday night?

Parks: Thursday evening,, when I was arrested.

Jelinek: And what time did you get to the bus?

Parks: It was approximately 6; it could have been a little bit sooner. So we get off about 5:30. Then I got ... well the first bus I saw was quite crowded... people were standing up in the bus. I decided to go across the street to the thrift shop and do some shopping. I think I had a pain in my neck or my shoulder or something, and I felt as thought I would need to get a heating pad or something to use on that evening, and I went across but I didn't get the pad. I got a few other small items and put them in a shopping bag. And as I was coming across the street, to approaching the bus, I could tell, I didn't see anybody standing at that point, but by the time I did get to the bus and got on, there were people standing in the back and I took the first available vacant seat, just back of where the white passengers would begin and our seating arranges {unclear}.

Jelinek: You know, I've always wondered about this. And wonder if you could explain to it to me. How did it did it work to the back of the bus? If there were no white people on the bus, could you go up to the very front?

Parks: No, we were supposed to leave a certain number of seats vacant.

Jelinek: So you knew where your spot ended?

Parks: Where it began.

Jelinek: And how much of the bus was that? Half or a third?

Parks: Well, on this particular line, going into a predominately white neighborhood, we would say at least 2/3 of the bus we called it "occupied," but we could not go all the way to the front, even though it was crowded, people standing in the back, in the aisles, we had to leave, because of what they said.

Jelinek: How did you know what spot was 2/3.

Parks: I don't know if it was 2/3 or not, but ...

Jelinek: Was it marked in any way?

Parks: There were some markers on the side of the windows

Jelinek: Oh, so they would tell you that way. So when you got on the bus that day, were you within the... Oh, and one more thing, if whites got on and there weren't enough seats in the white section, then you had to move back right?

Parks: Well some bus drivers asked you to move, and then some did not. It depended upon the individual bus drivers.

Jelinek: I see. And when you took your seat, were you in the black section?

Parks: Yes, what I considered the black section.

Jelinek: Yes, behind the markers?

Parks: Well, it was, I really didn't know this, but I just knew that that particular seat that I was occupying, there was a man sitting in it already and I got to sit next to him and there were two individuals sitting across the aisle, and these three people were black people.

Jelinek: So that gave you the indication?

Parks: Well, and then due to the fact the whole markers on the side, not on the seat, it was on the side of the windows.

Jelinek: I see.

Parks: Do you remember going to Montgomery and seeing those little things?

Jelinek: They didn't have them when I was there.

Parks: Oh, you didn't go... they had done away with them.

Jelinek: Right. That was gone by the time I got there. So, but why would people stand in the back then, if there were seats?

Parks: Because there was only one seat. Why they left that one seat, there were people standing on the back of the bus, and I went sat on the one seat that was left vacant.

Jelinek: I see. Were you on the aisle?

Parks: How's that? Yes, it was on the aisle. The man that sat in the seat with me sat next to the window.

Jelinek: So, now all of a sudden this white man gets on, right?

Parks: Well he got on along with a few other people, he was not the only one getting on that stop, it was the third stop from where I got on and these white people were {unclear} and this one man found a space to stand near the driver and the driver noticed he was standing, he looked at four of us and requested or asked that we, they didn't have the front seat.

Jelinek: Did he ask all of you?

Parks: All of us would have to move in order to make the section ...

Jelinek: Oh I see, cause he couldn't sit next to one of you.

Parks: That's right.

Jelinek: So did the other three move?

Parks: Well, it's very {unclear} by the time {unclear} when he spoke a second time, and said we'd better make it light on ourselves and I didn't.

Jelinek: Why didn't you?

Parks: Well, because I didn't think I should have to. I had already occupied the seat, I had paid my fare and had gone that far from where I boarded up to that stop. It just didn't seem right. And didn't seem that anybody else should have to stand up because somebody else tells you to and it give up a seat when we've been working all day, and maybe just like other people had.

Jelinek: You knew that was illegal under Alabama law, right?

Parks: It wasn't illegal.

Jelinek: So how come that day, you were prepared to break the law?

Parks: Well, I wasn't breaking the law. I was only disobeying the driver because as far I can recall the ordinance in, you might check it if you want to, is that the bus driver did have the power to rearrange the seating in order to keep the races segregated. If he wanted to rearrange it, {unclear} black people to stand up, they were supposed to have a seat to occupy if they were sitting near the front. But I don't think [any] thing in law said that you would have to stand up and give another person your seat.

Jelinek: But you surely knew you'd get in trouble for it right?

Parks: Well, I knew there was trouble all the time, no matter if you're trying to do right or what. There was still trouble as long as we had to live under this racist segregation and it was something that they used to {unclear} had to abide by.

Jelinek: Do you think that you would have done the same thing a year earlier? Before Brown v. Board of Education?

Parks: Well, I had had problems with the same driver and at the time my mind fall on any decision that anybody else had made in any other case at that moment.

Jelinek: Had you ever refused before to get up?

Parks: I guess, roughly in the early 1940s, it was 1943. It was just before I joined the NAACP doing the same job....? Get out of the bus and go around to the back

Parks: That's what he was wanting me to do at the time. He did call the police. He told me to get off the bus.

Jelinek: Had you ever done what he said, gone to the back of the bus as he asked?

Parks: Well it was a matter of the back or the front of the bus. It was about giving up my seat.

Jelinek: Right, and had you ever given up your seat at any other time?

Parks: No, the only time...I don't know. It's been far to think. There was a time when some... well I always managed to get into situations. I can recall only... at one time, the bus was crowded at that time. I was sitting about half way and my passenger man, sitting across the aisle from me. Looked at me and said we could look...

Jelinek: Had you ever given up your seat at any other time?

Parks: It's hard to say... I can recall only, at one time, someone, well the bus was crowded. I don't know it's been far too think there was a time when well I always manage to somehow get into situations I can recall only at one time well the bus wasn't crowded I was sitting about half way of the bus and my passenger man came and sat across the aisle from me and it wasn't the same driver is another one I don't even remember who it was. He looked at me and said we couldn't sit across the way from each other. But I told him was already sitting there, which I was... He said come back in and you can have my seat. So I got up and went back and took the seat that he offered me and that was some 7 years before that. I can't recall what year that was. I recall that particular incident. There was a blank thing because we usually get condition to being disturbed when you're trying to move in order not to be challenged and not have to challenge them.

Jelinek: But this thing you just weren't willing to be charged huh? Parks: Well I don't think there was anything special about the ... it was that the driver just wanted to have me arrested and I was going to answer that.

Jelinek: What did he say after ... did you tell him, "No I won't move?" Did you say, "No?"

Parks: I told him I was not going to stand up. And he told me if you don't stand I'll call the police and have me arrested. So I just suggested he go ahead and call them.

Jelinek: And so he stopped the bus and ...?

Parks: The bus was already stopped at the time we had the discussion about the seat. He didn't move the bus after he saw this man standing.

Jelinek: And then did he get out of the bus and call the policeman?

Parks: Yes he got out of the bus and stayed a few minutes and then came back and stood. I have severe pain that's why I keep driving, dragging things out, that's why I can hardly ... I'm having trouble talking.

Jelinek: Oh, I'm sorry.

Parks: It's getting a little worse...I don't know why he wanted to have me arrested I wasn't going to answer that.

Jelinek: The policeman on the bus?

Parks: Well two policemen came on the bus I don't know how he called them, maybe a telephone ...

Jelinek: ... and they got on and told you you're under arrest?

Parks: Yes, they did.

Jelinek: ... was this the first time you'd ever been arrested?

Parks: Yes it was.

Jelinek: ... and they took you to the Montgomery jail right?

Parks: Yes they did.

Jelinek: ... and where you booked and fingerprinted?

Parks: Yes.

Jelinek: ... and put in a cell?

Parks: Yes.

Jelinek: How long did you stay in?

Parks: Not very long. I suppose by the time I get home in the evening it must have been about 9.

Jelinek: How much was your bail, do you remember?

Parks: The bail?

Jelinek: Yeah

Parks: I don't remember how much it was. Mr Nixon and attorney and Mrs. Clifford there were the people who came to the cell with my husband and somebody who is driving the car for them.

Jelinek: ...and got you out. How did the police treat you during all this time? Were you treated okay?

Parks: You mean the arresting police? I wasn't manhandled at all. And I had to give up my belongings. When I was booked at the city hall, some of the most discomfort I had was when they refused to let me have a drink of water. It was a "white" fountain, so I can see why they would not let me have a drink of water.

Jelinek: So they didn't abuse you in any other way?

Parks: I wasn't physically manhandled.

Jelinek: And were they talking to you badly in any way?

Parks: No, I don't recall being verbally abused. I had ...

Jelinek: Tell me what happened to your case? I never found out about that? Were you found guilty?

Parks: Yes I was.

Jelinek: And what was your sentence.

Parks: That was the charge of I think $10, I think in court it was $14, I thought it was $19, it was ten. And my lawyer Fred Green could give you the legal details of that.

Jelinek: Did you win the appeal?

Parks: No. Well, after a long time, I think when bus segregation was declared illegal; I think the case was resolved.

Jelinek: Yeah, they dropped whole thing probably.

Parks: I think so.

Jelinek: Tell me now, right after all this, that's when the boycott meetings began, right?

Parks: Yeah, we called them protests.

Jelinek: Protest meetings. How soon did the first meeting take place? You were arrested on Thursday night, December 1, 1954, and your trial was going to be the next Monday, right?

Parks: Yes.

Jelinek: Right. Trial would be Monday. When did you have the first meeting?

Parks: Well, there was a meeting, I don't know if you would call it a protest meeting. It was a meeting at the Baptist church on Friday evening.

Jelinek: That's [at] Dr. King's church?

Parks: That's right.

Jelinek: And had he ever been active before? Was he in the NAACP?

Parks: He had been a guest speaker of the NAACP early on. I think about the summer time and as far as I know, it was the only time I remembered seeing him at the meeting, is when he had been invited to speak at one of the meetings.

Jelinek: Did you attend all these meetings before the fifth?

Parks: Well, it was a branch, so I was at every meeting. Unless something unusual would keep me from going.

Jelinek: But this was the church meeting or the — oh you mean this was NAA but they were meeting at the church?

Parks: No, that meeting on Friday evening was not the NAACP it was a meeting, a cross-sector of members of the community. Just everybody who was interested or concerned about my being arrested and this particular incident came out.

Jelinek: How do you explain that? Why is it that they weren't willing to — only 16 people would sign the petition, but so many people got involved after you got arrested? what was it that — 

Parks: I don't have any explanation {unclear} decided it was time to be concerned ... action to be taken and the incident ... other people suffered likewise and victims of abused by bus drivers. Not only segregationists, abusive bus drivers. Some of them, not all of them. They ruled the segregation.

Jelinek: What decision was made, at the meetings?

Parks: The meeting that was held Monday night, after the end of the trial, the decision was made that we would remain on the bus until several changes were made in the way we were treated.

Jelinek: And that began on Tuesday?

Parks: No, people stayed off the buses Monday morning.

Jelinek: Monday morning, before your trial.

Parks: That's right.

Jelinek: And what happened at your trial? Did you testify?

Parks: I did not testify at all. The lawyer testified. I didn't have to do anything. I didn't make a statement at all myself.

Jelinek: And while the trial was going the boycott was already on?

Parks: Yes, it was

Jelinek: Did you all know that the boycott was illegal, under Alabama law?

Parks: We'll we hadn't thought about it at that time. That we were throwing a protest over against being treated unjustly on the buses.

Jelinek: Did you know that I got that law declared unconstitutional?

Parks: I think you mentioned it when you called me.

Jelinek: Yes that same law. So, then the next day, how many black people did ride the bus?

Parks: I don't know how many.

Jelinek: Were you surprised that it was such large support?

Parks: Yes.

Jelinek: You must have felt pretty good about it too huh?

Parks: It was quite encouraging.

Jelinek: Tell me, was it unusual to have a minister involved in your protest?

Parks: We wasn't in any protests before, so I don't know if it was unusual or not.

Jelinek: What about your meetings? Had there ever been...?

Parks: NAACP meetings?

Jelinek: Yes.

Parks: Abernathy ...Rev Abernathy ... He was one of the leaders and we didn't have, there weren't too many ministers working very actively in NAACP ...

Jelinek: Did you think it made a difference that Dr. King became president of the Montgomery Improvement Association?

Parks: I wasn't even in the meeting where he was selected as the leader

Jelinek: Was that important do you think that a minister was in charge? Or was present?

Parks: Well, I don't know how you call it just because he was a minister...

Jelinek: There's been a lot of stuff written that the reason that this whole Civil Rights Movement began around your refusal to move was because as a minister he brought in Christianity and nonviolence,, which a non-minister might not have done. Do you think that's true?

Parks: I don't know. I couldn't make any comment on that. I don't know.

Jelinek: You were arrested as part of the boycott indictment weren't you?

Parks: Oh, {unclear}?

Jelinek: Yes. Were you all jailed when that arrest took place? ... They gave you some kind of summons right?

Parks: I was arrested and had to sit in a coat room. And I remember too that {unclear} When I came out of a {unclear} the appeal trial.

Jelinek: I'm getting close to the end now. If you bear with me, I'll be much quicker now. When the boycotts first began, what were you asking? What were the demands?

Parks: Oh, the first demand was to handle business for ... bus drivers. And the the city to be on a first come first serve basis ... Back of the bus...

Jelinek: But you still wouldn't be sitting integrated?

Parks: That's right. But there was a request to have black male bus drivers ...

Jelinek: Did the — your requests increase during that year to more?

Parks: I don't recall, what. I don't remember ... all I know is that those request ... and it's been a long time now ...

Jelinek: Tell me, during this whole time, during the year of the boycott, did you yourself have any problems since you were the one that triggered it all off? Were you threatened ever or abused any way?

Parks: I would get calls {unclear} 1956.

Jelinek: Did they say why?

Parks: No they never mentioned that it was because of that {unclear} and then my husband was working {unclear} at the time and the man who made the paper and was involved in {unclear} boycotts, protests, {unclear} I didn't know what...

Jelinek: When did he leave? A few months after you left?

Parks: Yes, it was some time in the summer. I believe in the summer, he went to San Francisco. But then NAACP massive convention he came back to Montgomery and wanted to work there.

Jelinek: After the boycott was over, how long did you stay in Montgomery?

Parks: I lived in Montgomery until 1957.

Jelinek: Between the boycott and '57 were you involved in any civil rights activities?

Parks: Yes. Montgomery Improvement Association. NAACP branches in Alabama were illegal ... were outlawed.

Jelinek: Which is probably the same people right?

Parks: Many of them were.

Jelinek: What kind of work did you do through the Montgomery Improvement Association?

Parks: {unclear}

Jelinek: Dr. Nixon, A.D. Nixon was quoted in a book as saying that Dr. King was very reluctant to be part of the whole business at first. Was that true?

Parks: I don't know. I never know that myself. But I guess if he knew him ...

Jelinek: What did you think about Dr. King?

Parks: I found him to be a fine person. Dedicated to the movement. People...

Jelinek: You came back, I read, that you were there at the end of the Selma March, is that right?

Parks: Yes, I was.

Jelinek: As the guest of honor?

Parks: Well, I thought I was just part of the crowd.

Jelinek: You're very modest. How did you feel about the march?

Parks: I thought it was very impressive and .... continue to demonstrate freedom.

Jelinek: Did you ever get to meet Stokely Carmichael?

Parks: Yes I did.

Jelinek: I was his lawyer, as well as Dr. King's. How did you feel about him and his concept of Black Power?

Parks: I didn't have anything against what he was saying. His expressions weren't the same as Dr. Kings, but I thought it was all trying to move to the same goal.

Jelinek: He's a sweet person isn't he?

Parks: Yes, the few times I met him I enjoyed his company.

Jelinek: Very charming man I always thought.

Parks: Yes.

Jelinek: I have one more question for you. And if it is too personal, just tell me so. Do your grandparents go back to slavery?

Parks: Yes, all of my grandparents were born, as far as I know, during, I know my mother and aunt were both ... And I don't know that my father's parents ... as far as I can recall, they were slaves.

Jelinek: Do you know where they were slaves?

Parks: Alabama.

Jelinek: Do you know what county?

Parks: Well my mother's parents were from Montgomery county and my father's, I don't know where they were born, but they lived in Henry county in Alabama.

Jelinek: As slaves?

Parks: I don't know if they lived there as slaves or moved there after they married and became free. I don't know where they were born.

Jelinek: As to your mother's parents, did they ever talk to you about slavery?

Parks: Not my grandfather, he died when I was about 2 years old.

Jelinek: It's sort of remarkable that you are the grandchild of a slave, of slaves, and you are the person that really began the end of all that came from slavery. Do you ever have that feeling?

Parks: I don't think I agree with that the beginning ... People ... and advance movement...that I was beginning it.

Jelinek: Well whatever caused it all, it certainly revolved around your event. There's no question about that right?

Parks: Well {unclear}.

Jelinek: Well I'm not going to take any more of your time. I certainly appreciate you taking all this time to talk with me. And I do hope you will urge Ms. Cox to share with me that information, so I can do something about that fundraising about what we were all talking about.

Parks: I take it she know who you are.

Jelinek: Again this has been a great pleasure Mrs. Parks.

Parks: I wish the best for you and your writing.

Jelinek: Thank you. I hope we can meet sometime.

Copyright © Rosa Parks & Don Jelinek

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