“Whites would accuse you of causing trouble when all you were doing was acting like a normal human being instead of cringing,” Rosa Parks explained. “You didn’t have to wait for a lynching.” Such were the assumptions of black deference that pervaded mid-20th century Montgomery, Ala. The bus with its visible arbitrariness and expected servility stood as one of the most visceral experiences of segregation. “You died a little each time you found yourself face to face with this kind of discrimination,” she noted.
Blacks constituted the majority of bus riders, paid the same fare, yet received inferior and disrespectful service — often right in front of and in direct contrast to white riders. “I had so much trouble with so many bus drivers,” Parks recalled. That black people comprised the majority of riders made for even more galling situations on the bus. Some routes had very few white passengers yet the first 10 seats on every bus were always reserved for whites. Thus, on many bus routes, black riders would literally stand next to empty seats. Those blacks able to avoid the bus did so, and those who had the means drove cars. Black maids and nurses, however, were allowed to sit in the white section with their young or sick white charges, further underscoring the ways that bus segregation marked status and the convenience of white needs, and did not simply regulate proximity.
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