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February 2018

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

U.S. Census Bureau History: Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement

Rosa Parks Booking Photo

Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913. Her arrest for refusing to surrender
her seat aboard a Montgomery, AL, public bus led to a boycott of the city's
buses by Black customers. The 13-month boycott ended after the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that the city's segregated buses were unconstitutional.

Photo courtesy of the State of Alabama.

On February 4, 1913, Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, AL. McCauley married Raymond Parks in 1932. She joined the Montgomery, AL, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1943, where she worked as the chapter's secretary under civil rights leader and union organizer E.D. Nixon.

On November 27, 1955, Rosa Parks attended a meeting at Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where she learned that the men who mutilated and killed Emmett Till—a Black teenager who supposedly whistled at a White woman—had been acquitted. She also learned the latest news about the recent murders of civil rights activists George W. Lee and Lamar Smith. Four days later, Parks left work, boarded a Montgomery public bus, paid her fare, and took a seat in the first row of the "colored" section. When the White section filled, the driver ordered Parks and three other Black passengers out of their seats. Parks later said that she recalled Emmett Till at that moment and refused to move.

The bus driver called the police who arrested Parks. Following her arrest, the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) urged the city's Black population to boycott public transportation on December 5, 1955—the date of Parks' trial for disorderly conducted and violating the city's segregation laws. The 1-day boycott proved so successful that the MIA agreed to continue the boycott to protest city and state segregation laws.

The MIA organized carpools and private taxis to assist bus patrons. The arrest and indictment of 89 of the boycott's organizers (including Martin Luther King, Jr. and 23 other ministers) brought national attention to the boycott and the city's segregation laws. While Parks and King appealed their convictions, a three-judge federal court ruled on another bus segregation lawsuit. The June 5, 1956, Browder v. Gayle ruling stated that any law requiring racially segregated seating on buses violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Despite the ruling, segregated seating and the bus boycott continued while attorneys for the City of Montgomery and Mayor W.A. Gayle appealed the decision.

In November 1956, the City of Montgomery, AL, sued in a state court for an injunction to forbid the MIA's carpool operation claiming it infringed on the bus company's exclusive franchise. Judge Eugene W. Carter granted the injunction on November 13, halting the carpools the following day. However, on November 14, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower federal court's June 5, 1956, ruling. Upon receiving official written notice of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on December 20, 1956, Mayor Gayle ordered the buses desegregated and the 381-day boycott ended.

Parks left Montgomery, AL, in 1957, and eventually settled in Detroit, MI, where she remained active in the Civil Rights Movement and supported other causes throughout her life. She died at age 92 on October 24, 2005. In the days prior to her November 2 funeral, the City of Montgomery reserved the front row of seats aboard its public buses with a black ribbon to honor the life and courage of Rosa Parks.

You can learn more about Rosa Parks and Civil Rights Movement using census data and records. For example:

  • Rosa Parks was born in Tuskegee, AL, on February 4, 1913. At the time, Tuskegee's population was approximately 2,803. The city's population peaked at 13,327 in 1980. In 2010, 9,865 called Tuskegee home. Along with Rosa Parks, Tuskegee's other famous residents include George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Lionel Richie, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Betty Shabazz (wife of Malcolm X), and one of the training sites of World War II's Tuskegee Airmen.
  • In July 1944, a Middlesex County, VA, sheriff arrested Irene Morgan Kirkaldy for refusing to give up her seat in the "White section" of a bus traveling between Virginia and Baltimore, MD. Following the arrest, her legal representatives William H. Hastie and Thurgood Marshall appealed her case (Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia Link to a non-federal Web site) to the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled that Virginia's laws segregating interstate traffic were unconstitutional. Virginia and several other states ignored the ruling.
  • Five years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, the 1960 Census collected its first commuter data. In that year, 5,323,000 urban and rural workers commuted to work by bus or streetcar. In 2016, the American Community Survey estimated that nearly 3.8 million workers (aged 16 years and older) commuted to work by bus.
  • Incidents of civil disobedience aboard public buses in Montgomery, AL, occurred before Rosa Park defied the city's segregation laws. For a number of reasons, civil rights leaders E. D. Nixon and Martin Luther King, Jr., and attorney Fred Gray chose to rally Montgomery's Black population around Rosa Parks following her December 1, 1955 arrest. Five women arrested before Parks (Claudette Colvin, Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Jeanetta Reese, and Mary Louise Smith) became plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle which successfully challenged Montgomery's bus segregation laws. On June 13, 1956, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ruled that based on the equal protection guaranteed citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment "the enforced segregation of black and white passengers on motor buses operating in the City of Montgomery violates the Constitution and laws of the United States." The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the District Court's ruling on November 13, 1956, and Montgomery's buses were desegregated by order of Mayor W.A. Gayle, the defendant in the Supreme Court Case, as of December 20, 1956.
  • Between 1950 and 1960, the population of Montgomery, AL, grew from 106,525 to 134,393—a 26 percent increase. In 2010, the city's population was 205,764, and in 2016, the American Community Survey estimated Montgomery's population was 200,022.
  • Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of the Black population living in the South remained fairly stable. (The South consists of: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.) The 1960 Census reported that 59.9 percent of the nation's Black population lived in the South. By 2010, 55 percent of the Black population in the United States lived in the South.
  • When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the total Black population of the United States was 20,671,914. In 2016, it estimated that 13.8 percent of the U.S. population was Black alone-or-in-combination—approximately 44.1 million.
  • Following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Census Bureau began collecting voting and registration data as a supplement to the Current Population Survey every 2 years to insure that elections are fair and open to all citizens regardless of race. In 1964, the Census Bureau reported that 69 percent of all voters aged 21 and older voted in the November 1964 presidential election that pitted Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry M. Goldwater. In 2016, 61.4 percent of registered voters aged 18 and older reported voting in the presidential election between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Rosa Park's bus

The Montgomery, AL, public bus (#2857) on which Rosa Parks rode December 1, 1955, remained in service until the early 1970s. The
Henry Ford Museum Link to a non-federal Web site eventually purchased it for $492,000. The museum unveiled the restored bus in 2003 and it is now the focal
point of its "With Liberty and Justice for All" exhibit.

An identical example of the historic bus (shown above) is on display at the National Civil Rights Museum Link to a non-federal Web site.

Photo courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.

This Month in Census History

In a February 1, 1953, episode of the popular television show, "The Cisco Kid," Cisco (Duncan Renaldo) and sidekick Pancho (Leo Carrillo) track outlaws posing as census takers.

Legitimate census takers always display their credentials during a visit. Learn more about how the Census Bureau protects your privacy at its Are You in a Survey Web page.

Civil Rights Act of 1968
View larger image

Did You Know?

On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968—also known as the Fair Housing Act.

The act provides equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion, or national origin. Beginning in 1974, the law prohibits gender discrimination and since 1988, gives protection to the disabled and families with children.

Black homeownership rates rose from 34.5 percent in 1950 to 41.6 percent in 1970 (2 years after passage of the act). In 2017, the rate of Black homeownership (Black Alone) was about 43 percent.

Photo courtesy of Tompkins County, NY.

LBJ signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964
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Civil Rights Act of 1964

On July 2, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. attended the White House ceremony during which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race in public accommodations, in publicly-owned or -operated facilities, in employment and union membership, and in the registration of voters.

Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021