Like other blacks who rode the bus, Parks was forced to abide by the law that reserved the first 10 seats for whites and mandated that blacks give up their own seats if necessary to accommodate white passengers. Black riders also had to enter the bus by the back door; on one occasion in 1943, Parks was ejected from the bus for failing to do so.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks was sitting with three others at the front of the black section of a bus when a white man boarded. As there were no seats available in the white section, the driver told Parks and the others in her row to move. Initially, no one complied, but the other passengers vacated their seats when the driver insisted they not make trouble for themselves. Parks, however, remained seated even after the driver threatened to call the police to force her to move.
"Go ahead and call them," she told the driver and waited patiently until the police arrived.
They arrested Parks and took her to jail. As Parks explained in her autobiography, she did not intend to change history that December evening. "If I had been paying attention, I wouldn't even have gotten on the bus."
The photograph taken of Parks during her fingerprinting eventually found its way into history books. She was granted one telephone call, and she used it to contact E.D. Nixon, a prominent member of Montgomery's NAACP chapter. Nixon was properly outraged, but he also sensed that in Parks his community might have the perfect individual to serve as a symbol of racial injustice. Nixon called a liberal white lawyer, Clifford Durr, who agreed to represent Parks. After consulting with the attorney, her husband, and her mother, Parks agreed to undertake a court challenge of the segregationist law that had led to her arrest.
Word of her arrest quickly spread and leaflets urging a bus boycott followed. The 13-month boycott, which began Dec. 5 and was organized out of King's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, overwhelmed Montgomery. It eventually took the U.S. Supreme Court to end the boycott. On Nov. 13, 1956, the court declared that Alabama's state and local laws requiring segregation on buses were illegal. On Dec. 20, federal injunctions were served on the city and bus company officials forcing them to follow the ruling.
The following morning, Dec. 21, 1956, King and the Rev. Glen Smiley, a white minister, shared the front seat of a public bus. The boycott had lasted 381 days.
"My real reason (for not getting out of her seat) was that I didn't think that I should have to stand up on order of this bus driver and be deprived of my seat," Parks told Ebony magazine. "I figured that as long as we did take that kind of treatment, they, the white segregationists, were becoming even more overbearing and cruel in their way of treating us."
Parks attributed her rebellious spirit to her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards, who, she said, was hostile toward whites because of the cruel treatment he had received from them. "While I do not think that I inherited his hostility," she mused, "my mother and I both learned from him not to let anyone mistreat us. It was passed down almost in our genes."