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© 2003 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

1956

 

In 1955, Montgomery, AL had a municipal law which required black citizens to ride in the back of the city's buses. On December 1st of that year, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a forty-two year old seamstress, boarded a city bus and sat in the first row of seats in the black section of the bus. When some white men got on the bus, the driver, James F. Blake ordered Mrs. Parks to give up her seat and move back. She refused to move, and Blake called the police to have her arrested.

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When Rosa Parks was arrested, the leaders in Montgomery 's black community saw the incident as an opportunity for staging a protest against the city's segregation laws. Over the weekend of December 3 and 4, the Reverends Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King met with Jo Ann Robinson (head of the Women's Political Council) and E. D. Nixon (an official with the NAACP). The purpose of their meeting was to plan a large scale boycott against the Montgomery city bus lines. Forty thousand hand bills were printed and passed out among the members of the black community. In addition, on December 4, Black ministers throughout the city conveyed the message from their pulpits. The boycott began on Monday, December 5, and it was an immediate success. According to the bus company receipts, about 90 percent of the blacks who usually rode the buses joined the boycott and found other means of transportation. Later in the evening, the black leaders of the community held another meeting and formed the M.I.A (Montgomery Improvement Association). The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was elected as president of this organization .

The Montgomery bus boycott continued into 1956. During that time, reactionaries within the local white communities fought back against the protesters in a variety of ways. Blacks riding in carpools were harassed by the police. Bombs were set off at the houses of both the Reverend King and E. D. Nixon. At one point, King was arrested on a petty speeding offense. Latter, conspiracy charges (based on state anti-boycott law) were brought against King as well as the other leaders of the M.I.A. Finally, in November of 1956, the US Supreme court declared that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional, and the boycott was brought to an end.

The Montgomery bus Boycott was a very significant event in the civil rights movement which spanned the 1950's and 60's. The boycott was important because it caught the attention of the entire nation. People around the country were made aware of the event because it was launched on such a massive scale and lasted for more than a year. Furthermore, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was important because it set the tone for the whole civil rights movement. In particular, the boycott gave Martin Luther King a position of leadership within the national movement and showed that the nonviolent method of protest was effective.


Bibliography:

Gilliam, Thomas J. "The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56." in: The Walking City: The Montgomery Bus Boycott. David J. Garrow, ed (Brooklyn; Carlson Publishing, 1989), p. 191-301.

Morris, Aldon D. The Orgins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. (New York; The Free Press, 1986)

Copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.

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