Montgomery Bus Boycott
In Montgomery, Alabama segregation was a part of everyday life. African Americans who lived there faced segregation in places such as parks, schools, restrooms, theaters and buses. The particular aspect of the segregation amongst Montgomery blacks and the whites of that year was the segregation law of the bus system. African American passengers were the majority of the people that boarded the buses daily. This population of the blacks accounted for about 60% of the riders.(www.Watson.com). Yet, they often were forced to tolerate to unfair conditions on buses. The bus drivers, all of who were white, treated blacks with racist and abusive attitudes, often calling their passengers derogative names such as “nigger”.
White bus driver’s often insisted that the black passengers pay their fares in the front of the bus, and then walk to the back door to board the bus. Sometimes, bus drivers drive off before the passenger could get on the bus leaving their passenger behind. While, this practice often angered blacks, the practices of “white-only” seating outrage them even more. The Montgomery law stated that blacks could not sit in the front of the bus, regardless of whether the seats were empty or not. They were only allowed to sit in the unreserved seating in the back of the bus. Even then, if the bus was full and a white person wanted to sit the black person would have to give up their seat on the bus so they would be able to sit.(www.home.att.net).
The Montgomery bus boycott began on December 1, 1955 and lasted through December 20, 1956, lasting for about 381 days. The mission of the boy-cot was to persuade the city council to omit the law of segregation on the buses. For equal right for the black passengers that boarded it daily, to and from daily. Through the years of segregation, there had been individuals who had been arrested and tried for refusing to give up their seats for white passengers. Some of the people that fell victim to this where, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin. Within the next few months of Claudette‘s trial, Mary Louise Smith an eighteen-year-old student refused to give up her seat on the bus and was arrested on the spot. Both of these young women were tried and fined, increasing the anger of the black citizens of Montgomery.
The ultimate breaking point was on December 1, 1955, when Ms. Rosa Parks, a 40 year old black seamstress and former NAACP secretary boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery. When a bus driver had asked all the black passengers on the bus to move to allow other white passengers to sit. Everyone on the bus obeyed except Rosa Parks who refused to give up her sit to accommodate the white passengers. She was then arrested and sent to the Montgomery jail. Rosa had said to a reporter after her arrest, “I told myself I wouldn’t put no fuss against them arresting me. Id go along with whatever they said. But I also knew I wasn’t gonna give up my seat just because a white driver told me to; I’d already done that too many time“(Donnie and Greenhaw 48-49). After hearing of the arrest of Rosa Parks, members of the black community decided that a boycott of the bus system would be a good way to protest against the unfairness of the bus system. JoAnn Robinson of the Women’s Political Committee began to organize a one day protest as a retaliation to the events that had happened prior. When news of this protest surfaced, many black leaders wanted to be apart of the protest. Hoping that it would be a step in reaching their goal of abolishing segregations on the bus and maybe abolishment of many other things. Under the leadership of E.D. Nixon, former chair of the NAACP of Alabama, Martin Luther King jr., Ralph Abernathy, H.H. Hubbard, and Ms. A.W. West an organized movement was officially associated. A meeting was held the day after Parks arrest and many Montgomery activists attended the session. Where they finalized the decision of the boy-cot as the key to ending the segregation. It was then the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association ) organized, under the leadership of Martin Luther King jr.
The black community did not use violence to protest bus segregation, they used a non-violent protest. They simply stopped using the bus system to show that they weren’t going to be treated unfairly, by the community , government and bus system. Non-violent resistance us based on the idea that the “universe is on the side of justice”. One must have faith in the future in order to understand that their struggle is not in vein. On the first night of the protest, King stated, “our methods will be that of persuasion, not coercion”. Martin Luther King’s non-violent philosophy was based on Gandhi’s principle, and combined with the deep African-American history of spirituality and slavery. He combined the principles of non-violence, the practices of Gandhi, the idea of good and evil. These were factors that was and still is valuable principals that rule the churches of African Americans. Even though King’s movement was more spiritual than Gandhi’s this non violent ideal proved to be the inspiration for one of the greatest movements in all African American history to this date. This contributed to the success of the movement because it was talent, and skill that helped the boycott become successful. The non-violent protest attracted many national and international leaders because it was a bold and somewhat revolutionary means to achieve political change.
Although the white societies retaliated with violence towards the circumstances of the boycott, the blacks still held on strong. Racial groups such as the KKK terrorized the black citizens. Similar associations harassed cab drivers that held black passengers in effort to bring the boycott to an end. At the end of it all their effort proved to be of no avail. After the violent approach did not intimidate African Americans into using the buses, they turned to the law. Black drivers were then routinely harassed by cops for minor or false driving violations. Drivers of carpools could not find insurance policies and even blacks waiting for rides would get arrested for hitchhiking.
“My friends it is time we wised up to these black devils. I tell you they are a group of two legged agitators who persist in walking up and down our streets protruding their black lips. If we don’t stop helping these African flesh eaters, we will soon wake up and find Rev. King in the White House. LET’S GET ON THE BALL WHITE CITIZENS”. (Montgomery Advertiser, February 11, 1956).
“The members of the opposition had also revealed that they did not know the Negroes with whom they were dealing. They thought they were dealing with a group who could be cajoled or forced to do whatever the white man wanted them to do. They were not dealing with Negroes who had been freed from fear. And so every move they made proved to be a mistake. It could not be otherwise, because their methods were geared to the “old Negro,” and they were dealing with the “new Negro”–Martin Luther King jr.
Overall, In June a federal court ruled segregated seating unconstitutional, and the case went on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, King and the MIA leadership went to the Montgomery court to try to appeal off an injunction against the carpools. They were in court when they were handed a notice from the Associated Press wire announcing the Supreme Court decision that ruled segregated seating on public buses unconstitutional. This brought an official ending to the year long movement. On December 20, 1956, when the federal ruling took effect, group of Montgomery Bus Boycott supporters, including King, Abernathy, Fred Gray, and Glenn Smiley, rode the city buses. The significance of which was to show a year long goal finally reached.
The Montgomery bus boycott movement helped unite black Americans together and most importantly, it was the largest movement of the African Americans in the 20th century America. Black people were also given the chance to once again have hope and faith in justice. The success of the boycott was determined by the strength and the efforts of the community as a whole. This aspect is what made the boycott unique and stronger than many other movements before and after its time for the black population through out history. The boycott demonstrated an important change in African Americans and the beginning of a new era and activism in the black community. Also a worldwide respect because of the non-violence principal that the whole movement was ultimately based on. An ongoing inspiration to generations after generations that follows.