The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Five years before Rosa Parks, a black soldier murdered for sitting in the front of the bus

Feb 13, 2006

Rosa Parks is remembered as the person whose refusal to move sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. But countless dozens of other black people just as courageously stood up to the same indignities before her. One of them was Thomas Edward Brooks, who lost his life for doing so.

Brooks, a uniformed soldier in the United States Army, boarded a Montgomery bus through the front door in August of 1950. Black passengers had been forced to board through the rear door.

Brooks refused to exit the bus and re-enter through the rear door, including after a police officer entered the bus and ordered him to. When the officer clubbed him over the head and started dragging him to the door, Brooks tore himself free and ran off the bus. The officer shot him in the back, killing him.

At the time, the authorities justified the killing as self-defense and then swept it under the rug. But you can bet that the black population of Montgomery was very much aware of this event and many more like it. It’s what pushed the population to engage itself so fully in the bus boycott. When Parks refused to move from her seat, it wasn’t the first time a black person was arrested, if not beaten, or killed. But the black population of Montgomery had decided that they were going to put an end to it.

The history books ignore Brooks and people like him, while stressing the actions of a few heroic individuals like Rosa Parks – as if there’s a big gap between these heroes and the mass of common folk. But Parks herself always insisted that there were many, many heroes in Montgomery and throughout the South, who refused to submit to this terror. It was only through their combined action and determination that the terror was overthrown.