But first we need to set the scene of the poor state of civil rights in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama. As I mentioned in the Martin Luther King posting, segregation was still very much a part of the life of an African American back then. Workplaces, schools, shops, restaurants, bars, toilets - everything was segregated.
Black people were banned entirely from some places that white people went, and where they were allowed, they were segregated to particular areas, which you could be certain would be the most undesirable section. People even had to use different water fountains.
And then there was segregation on the buses. In 1955 the US Supreme Court and then the Interstate Commerce Commission had recently ruled bus segregation as unconstitutional and banned it on all buses travelling between states. But this did not apply to buses that were purely within a state, as the US system of legislation allows individual States to set their own rules.
In Montgomery this meant that Jim Crow (a commonly used perjorative term for negro generally used to describe segregation legislation) rules of bus segregation were applied. These stated that the front of the bus was reserved for white people, and blacks were never allowed to sit there.
Black people, who were by far the majority of the bus users, were expected to fill up the bus from the back and if only seats at the front remained, they had to stand rather than sit in them. But if a white person got on, and there was no seat available at the front, then those people in the first black row were required to give up their seats and stand. Generally black people followed the rules, but occasionally someone would refuse, and they would be arrested.
On 1 December 1955, a black woman named Rosa Parks got the bus home from her job as a seamstress, and was sat in the front row of the black section. The bus was full, so when some white people got on, the black people in the front were told to move. They all moved except for Rosa, who refused. When she continued to refuse, the driver, James Blake, called the police and she was arrested.
Now when this story is told, it is often assumed that Rosa Parks was just a normal woman, tired after the end of her work day, who just decided there and then that she would not stand when asked. But that is not the case. In fact, when you look at the facts, it seems quite likely that this was a planned protest.
In 1955 Rosa Parks was 42 years old and, alongside her normal job, she worked as a secretary in the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and investigated cases for them. She had recently been on a course for civil rights activists, learning about non violent protest.
And this was not her first brush with the driver, Blake. Some drivers would make a black passenger pay at the front, then make them get off and reboard at the back door. This had happened to Rosa and the driver, Blake, had then driven off before she could reboard. She had vowed never to use a bus that he was driving again. And yet on this day she did.
In her own words, she said of the incident "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in." So when you look at all of this together, it does rather seem that Rosa, probably acting as part of a plan by Edgar Nixon, President of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, was looking for an opportunity to make her protest. Mr Nixon wanted a test case to challenge the segregation legislation, and he needed a person of good character to be that test case.
Of course the fact that this may have been a planned protest does not make it any less valid. It was not a manufactured situation - she was arrested for failing to comply with segregation laws.
This wasn't the first time someone had been arrested, but this time, the black community decided to do something about it. Jo Ann Robinson, a member of the Women's Political Council (WPC) of Montgomery, put out a leaflet to all of the black community calling for them to boycott the buses on Monday 5 December, when Rosa's case was to be heard.
The trial went ahead, and she was found guilty, but appealed. In the meantime, black people stayed off the buses. And not just for the one day. They cycled, hitchhiked, organised car pools, organised a car service for the price of the bus fare, used mules, walked long distances, and some were given lifts by their white employers, but they did not take the bus.
The newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), led by the new Baptist minister in town, one Dr Martin Luther King Junior, was demanding a compromise for the buses. It did not ask for its preferred solution of a complete end to segregation, but instead sought a simple division of the bus, so that whilst a black person may still have to stand if their section was full, even if the white section was empty, they would never again have to give up their seat for a white person.
The state and bus company fought back of course. They tried to make car pooling impossible by getting insurance companies to refuse to insure the vehicles, but the black community found a company prepared to help them - Lloyds of London. They tried to ban the car service as an illegal taxi service, resulting in some people, including Martin Luther King being arrested and spending time in jail. It just gave the boycott more attention.
And alongside all of this, the legal action continued. They did not in fact pursue Rosa Parks' case, as that would have been through the Alabama courts and so doomed to failure. Instead, they took out a civil case in the federal courts, where they could hope for a better outcome.
The Browder v Gayle case was decided on 13 June 1956, when the federal courts ruled the segregation on Alabama buses as unconstitutional. The State appealed, but on 17 December 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the decision, and three days later, ordered the desegregation of Alabama buses.
The boycott ended on the same day.