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Rosa Parks documents on display at Archives

By Ed Brock

More than a month before Rosa Parks made her famous decision not to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus Mary Louise Smith had a similar experience.

On Oct. 21, 1955, 19-year-old Smith was riding the bus as she had done twice daily for some time, Smith said during her testimony in the federal court case Browder v. Gayle. That case, which challenged the constitutionality of laws segregating Montgomery's buses, sprang from the Rosa Parks incident that would happen on Dec. 1 of the same year.

During her ride, Smith testified, she was sitting in the section reserved for black people when the bus came to a stop.

“At this particular moment a white lady got on the bus and she asked the bus driver to tell me to move out of my seat for her to sit there,” Smith said. “He asked me to move three times and I refused. So he got up and said he would call the cops.”

Smith, too, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus.

The transcript of Smith's testimony, Parks' fingerprint card and the police report of her arrest are all documents on display at the National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Region facility in Morrow. All were admitted as evidence in Browder v. Gayle, said NARA Public Programs Specialist Mary Evelyn Tomlin.

It was Parks' arrest that triggered the Montgomery bus boycott that was one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s first major protests during the Civil Rights Movement.

“He was a young man at that time,” Tomlin said.

After Parks' death on Monday at the age of 92 several people have called NARA regarding documents connected to her case, Tomlin said. The NARA archive in Morrow contains federal documents from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, North and South Carolina and Tennessee, said Regional Administrator James McSweeney.

In response to the requests and in honor of Parks the archive exhibited the documents to the media on Friday and have posted images of it on its Web site, www.archives.gov.

“We were actually going to hold a similar event on Dec. 1 to mark the 50th anniversary of her arrest,” McSweeney said. “We are very proud of our Civil Rights holdings.”

Also among the documents on display is a diagram of where Parks was sitting on the bus and her picture. The police report is a simple, one page document filled out by Montgomery Police Officers J.B. Day and D.W. Mixon.

“We received a call upon arrival the bus operator said he had a colored female sitting in the white section of the bus, and would not move back,” the officers wrote in the report.

She was charged with “refusing to obey orders of the bus driver.”

Tomlin was particularly impressed by the court transcripts.

“It's very interesting to read because it gives you an oral history,” Tomlin said. “The memories are fresh without having been colored by other events and the passage of time.”

Members of the public can review the documents but are asked to call ahead to reserve the assistance of an archivist.