Rosa Parks: The misdemeanor that sparked a movement Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of a bus, touched off the Montgomery bus boycott and the beginning of the civil rights movement, is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., Feb. 22, 1956. She was among some 100 people charged with violating segregation laws. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick/Troy Glasgow)
Rosa Parks: The misdemeanor that sparked a movement
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William Pretzer was 5 years old when Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested. It was December 1, 1955. The 42-year-old seamstress was on a city bus, en route home after a day's work, and she refused to give her seat to a white passenger.
 
The full import of the event did not register with Pretzer, so young and living more than 2,000 miles away in Sacramento, California. To be honest, it would take time for most people to gain enough perspective to see the protest for what it was, the beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States, and Parks as the movement's so-called "mother."
 
Even now, as he looks over Parks' police report and fingerprints, Pretzer, a senior curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, is struck by the banality of the documents.
 
"There is nothing that makes this event look extraordinary," he says. "It is being treated as a typical misdemeanor violation of the city code. In fact, that is exactly what it was."
 
Yet, while police dealt with the situation just like any other altercation on the city's segregated buses, Parks, her attorneys and NAACP leaders organized.
 
"Within the African American community, it is seen as an opportunity for progress to be made, for attention and pressure to be brought to bear on the white power structure," says Pretzer.
 
Parks' act of defiance inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott, through which Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as a civil rights leader. The boycott lasted 381 days, and on the 382nd day, backed by a Supreme Court ruling, the city's buses were officially integrated.
 
By Pretzer's definition, Parks is a history maker.
 
"History makers are those that sense the moment," he says.
 
Pretzer studied Parks' story in detail in the early 2000s, when he helped Detroit's Henry Ford Museum, where he worked for more than 20 years, acquire the retired GM bus in which the incident occurred.
 
Explore an analysis of Rosa Parks' arrest records, based on a conversation with Pretzer and information conveyed in Parks' 1992 autobiography Rosa Parks: My Story.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is it important to explore the arrest records of Rosa Parks?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (8)
  • hayleyt-lam
    11/23/2016 - 12:03 p.m.

    Exploring the arrest records of Rosa Parks could help her with her trial that had happened.

  • emmab-cel
    11/28/2016 - 09:58 a.m.

    Rosa Parks is such an inspiration to everyone today. Without her buses would have taken longer to be integrated. She is a very accomplished person and has an amazing story. She is a very important person today and in our nations history.

  • pilarj-cel
    11/28/2016 - 10:38 a.m.

    Exploring her arrest records today would just help to show how things were several years ago and how things like sitting down and not getting up for someone of another race was a misdemeanor. It shows how African Americans, at the time, were treated as if what they wanted didn't matter, and looking at how she was charged over something that would be so little, compared to today, made history change over night. Looking back on it inspires us as a country to not go back on our old ways.

  • angelax-bur
    11/28/2016 - 11:26 a.m.

    It is important to explore the arrest records of Rosa Parks, because this was a life changing moment for the African Americans of their fight to end segregation. According to the article, "Within the African American community, it is seen as an opportunity for progress to be made, for attention and pressure to be brought to bear on the white power structure." If I was in Rosa Parks' shoes I wouldn't have done what she had done. I would be too afraid; and this is why I think what she did was incredible!

  • piersonw-cel
    11/30/2016 - 11:20 a.m.

    William Pretzer was 5 years old when Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested. It was December 1, 1955. Parks was the civil rights movement's so-called "mother." Her case was a typical misdemeanor violation of the city code. Parks actions inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

  • zakrym-ste
    11/30/2016 - 12:04 p.m.

    This sparked something in the civil rights movement. alot of change was set in motion. And now here we are in 2016.

  • kaileew-ste
    12/01/2016 - 02:08 p.m.

    Everyone knows about the incredible courage of Rosa Parks. However, William Pretzer found that back then it was viewed as a simple law violation. I think it is a good thing that he keeps her legacy going.

  • monicas-ste
    12/05/2016 - 02:41 p.m.

    She's so inspirational. I remember learning about her in elementary. She's so brave.

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