Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56)

Prepared by Morgan Duganrosa-parks-dickson1dec05.jpg

The Gas to the Fire

African American, Rosa Parks, was born on February 4th, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. On Thursday, December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks, age 42, refused to obey direct orders from a bus driver to give up her seat for a white man and move to the back of the bus. She was actually sitting in the first row for blacks and when all the white seats were filled and there were still white passengers to be seated, the driver demanded she vacate her seat for a white man. When she refused and was arrested, she became an iconic figure for racial desegregation in the United States as well as prevalent symbol for the Civil Rights Movement. Years later, in recalling the events of the day, Parks said, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night." Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, starting that day, on December 1st, 1955.

Already Prevalent Tension

Tension involving segregated transportation was not new; however, Rosa Parks’ trial and conviction of the crime of violating bus policies was just gas to the fire. It was the final straw in a long-anticipated protest to racial segregation. Other strain-filled incidents included: in 1943, Rosa Parks paid her bus fare and then the bus driver drove off without her on purpose; in 1949, Jo Ann Robinson absentmindedly sat in the front of a nearly empty bus only to get yelled at by the bus driver to move to the back of the bus immediately; in the early 1950s, a black pastor, Vernon Johns tried to urge other black passengers to leave a bus in protest for him being demanded to give up his seat to a white man, only to have the other passengers tell him, “You ought to knowed better”.

Organizing the Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was both a social and political protest that opposed the policy of racial segregation of public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama. For the next 381 days, African Americaexternal image 2dv26o9.jpgns would make a powerful statement by saying they would not pay money for public transportation if they had to endure not being able to pick where they wanted to sit like everyone else. 42,000 blacks would carpool, take taxis, and even walk for the next year (some had to walk as far as 20 miles!). This was not that great of a cost though; they did whatever it took to resist the temptation to take the bus and they did whatever it took to make a strong nationwide statement. As long as they made a statement, the cost to them didn't matter. The morning after Rosa Parks was arrest, thousands of flyers were printed asking Montgomery blacks to stay off of public transportation. 90% of African Americans in the city responded by boycotting the buses and refusing to pay for them just to be treated like animals. Since a large percentage of bus passengers were African Americans, buses rode along the streets on Montgomery practically empty and not making much money. Immediately after Parks’ arrest, about 50 black leaders and one white minister (Robert Graetz) gathered in the basement of Martin Luther King Jr.’s church to organize the boycott. Important people involved with the boycott included: of course the woman who sparked it all, Rosa Parks, 26 year old minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr., and American Civil Rights leader, Edgar Daniel Nixon. The goals of the bus boycott were obvious; they would not stop until the public transit system was desegregated and they could walk onto a bus without being forced to sit in the back.
**Click here for a timeline of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

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To the right: Edgar Daniel Nixon and Rosa Parks, two major players in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The Final Days & the Outcome

Eventually, after 381 days, the state gave in. In response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, after a little more than a year, on June 4th, 1956, the federal district court ruled that Alabama's racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional. The boycott continued until finally on November 13th, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling, resulting in a city ordinance that allowed black passengers to sit anywhere they wanted and the boycott officially ended on December 20th, 1956. This was a spectacular achievement for the Civil Rights Movement because the boycott was one of the first victories and it gave Martin Luther King Jr. the national attention that he later used to progress the Civil Rights Movement even further. The boycott practically set the stage for MLK to become one of the greatest civil rights activist and leader. The Montgomery Bus Boycott influenced larger achievements for civil rights leader and desegregation of many more things in the daily life of African Americans.

In the video below, footage of Martin Luther King's public remarks during the bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama, including his first-ever television interview and his announcement ending the boycott are shown.