The Montgomery Bus Boycott

On the night of Rosa Parks’ arrest, Jo Ann Robinson, head of the Women’s Political Council, printed and circulated a flyer throughout Montgomery’s black community which read as follows:

“Another woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negro, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday.”

The next morning at a church meeting led by the new MIA head, King, a citywide boycott of public transit was proposed to demand a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses. Such a line would have meant that if the white section of the bus was oversubscribed, whites would have to stand; blacks would not be forced to remit their seats to whites.

This demand was a compromise for the leaders of the boycott who believed that the city of Montgomery would be more likely to accept it rather than a demand for a full integration of the buses. In this respect, the MIA leadership followed the pattern of earlier boycott campaigns in theDeep South during the 1950s. A prime example was the successful boycott a few years earlier of service stations in Mississippi for refusing to provide restrooms for blacks. The organizer of that campaign, T.R.M. Howard of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, had spoken on the brutal slaying of Emmett Till as King’s guest at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church only four days before Parks’s arrest. Parks was in the audience and later said that Emmett Till was on her mind when she refused to give up her seat.

The MIA’s demand for a fixed dividing line was to be supplemented by a requirement that all bus passengers receive courteous treatment by bus operators, be seated on a first-come, first-served basis, and blacks be employed as bus drivers. The proposal was passed, and the boycott was to commence the following Monday. To publicize the impending boycott it was advertised at black churches throughout Montgomery the following Sunday.

On Saturday, December 3, it was evident that the black community would support the boycott, and very few blacks rode the buses that day. That night a mass meeting was held to determine if the protest would continue, and attendees enthusiastically agreed. The boycott proved extremely effective, with enough riders lost to the city transit system to cause serious economic distress. Martin Luther King later wrote “miracle had taken place.” Instead of riding buses, boycotters organized a system of carpools, with car owners volunteering their vehicles or themselves driving people to various destinations. Some white housewives also drove their black domestic servants to work, although it is unclear to what extent this was based on sympathy with the boycott, versus the desire to have their staff present and working.When the city pressured local insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in the carpools, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyd’s of London.

Black taxi drivers charged ten cents per ride, a fare equal to the cost to ride the bus, in support of the boycott. When word of this reached city officials on December 8, 1955, the order went out to fine any cab driver who charged a rider less than 45 cents. In addition to using private motor vehicles, some people used non-motorized means to get around, such as cycling, walking, or even riding mules or driving horse-drawn buggies. Some people also hitchhiked. During rush hours, sidewalks were often crowded. As the buses received extremely few, if any, passengers, their officials asked the City Commission to allow stopping service to black communities. Across the nation, black churches raised money to support the boycott and collected new and slightly used shoes to replace the tattered footwear of Montgomery’s black citizens, many of whom walked everywhere rather than ride the buses and submit to Jim Crow laws.

In response, opposing whites swelled the ranks of the White Citizens’ Council, the membership of which doubled during the course of the boycott. The councils sometimes resorted to violence: Martin Luther King’s and Ralph Abernathy’s houses were firebombed, as were four black Baptist churches. Boycotters were often physically attacked.

Under a 1921 ordinance, 156 protesters were arrested for “hindering” a bus, including King. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine or serve 386 days in jail. He ended up spending 2 weeks in prison. The move backfired by bringing national attention to the protest. King commented on the arrest by saying: “I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice.”

Pressure increased across the country and on June 4, 1956, the federal district court ruled that Alabama’s racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional. However, an appeal kept the segregation intact, and the boycott continued until, finally, on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the district court’s ruling. This victory led to a city ordinance that allowed black bus passengers to sit virtually anywhere they wanted, and the boycott officially ended December 20, 1956. The boycott of the buses had lasted for 381 days. Martin Luther King, Jr. capped off the victory with a magnanimous speech to encourage acceptance of the decision. The Montgomery Bus Boycott also had ramifications that reached far beyond the desegregation of public buses and provided more than just a positive answer to the Supreme Court’s action against racial segregation. The Montgomery Bus Boycott reverberated throughout the United States and stimulated the national Civil Rights Movement.

The boycott resulted in the U.S. civil rights movement receiving one of its first victories and gave Martin Luther King, Jr. the national attention that made him one of the prime leaders of the cause.

.
———
full article at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montgomery_Bus_Boycott
More resources at: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

.

This entry was posted in Articles, Resources. Bookmark the permalink.