Bus Boycott Begins - History

Bus Boycott Begins - History

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Bus Boycott Begins

On December 1,1955, Rosa Parks, a Black seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to surrender her seat when she was ordered to by the bus driver. She was arrested. A citywide boycott of the bus company resulted. In December 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was illegal.

Until 1955 the Jim Crow laws that existed in much of the South resulted in segregated bus lines. This was the case in Montgomery Alabama. In 1946 the NAACP fought the Jim Crow laws in court by bringing the case of Morgan v Virginia. That case made it illegal to enforce segregation in interstate bus lines. It did not apply to local bus lines. Thus the Montgomery bus lines remained segregated with Blacks being forced to sit in the back part of the bus.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks a seamstress from Montgomery and also the vice chairperson of the NAACP in the city, was on a bus. She was sitting in the middle of the bus and area reserved for both Whites and Blacks, but where the Blacks were expected to move further back if there were more white people on the bus. When additional whites entered the bus, the driver told her to move back. She refused. The city did not have a law segregating buses but had a law requiring riders to listen to drivers. Parks was arrested and convicted. She was charged a $10 fee and forced to pay $4 in court fees.

As a result of the arrest, the African Americans of Montgomery led by Reverand Martin Luther King began a boycott of the busses of the city. The boycott was very effective causing significant economic distress to the bus company. The boycott organizers were arrested under a 1921 law that made it illegal to interfere with commerce. King spent two weeks in jail, but the case brought national attention to the boycott. In 1956 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Border v Gayle that Alabama segregation laws were unconstitutional.

On December 20, 1956, 381 days after the boycott began the city of Montgomery caved and passed a law guaranteeing that African Americans could sit anywhere on a bus.

Montgomery bus boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a political and a social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. It was a foundational event in the civil rights movement in the United States. The campaign lasted from December 5, 1955—the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white person—to December 20, 1956, when the federal ruling Browder v. Gayle took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional. [1]

    on public transportation
  • Successful 6-day Baton Rouge bus boycott 's arrest ' arrest
  • Browder v. Gayle (1956)
  • Emergence of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Inspired Tallahassee bus boycott
  • Formation of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
  • W. A. Gayle, President of the Commission (mayor)
  • Frank Parks, Commissioner
  • Clyde Sellers, Police Commissioner

Montgomery City Lines

The Montgomery Bus Boycott in the News

In the 2021 book, Time to Teach: A History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, Civil Rights movement leader Julian Bond (1940–2015) stated that the Montgomery bus boycott provides a case study of how a social movement starts, develops, and grows. Such movements, Bond continued, begin with a concrete, precipitating event (in this case, Rosa Parks’s arrest), but they are usually the result of known or shared incidents on the part of the participants. A successful movement, he added, contains agitation, fosters fellowship, sustains morale, and develops tactics. The Montgomery bus boycott embodied all of these things—aided by both the words and actions of well-known leaders, such as Reverends Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy, and the active involvement of countless others.

This 1957 comic book, produced by the international Fellowship of Reconciliation, highlighted the leadership of Martin Luther King, as well as featuring Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. / THF110738

How did the Montgomery bus boycott begin? By 1955, Black activists and community leaders in Montgomery, Alabama, were exploring the idea of a city-wide bus boycott—an organized refusal to ride the buses after decades of humiliating incidents and indignities that the Black community suffered. But they knew they would need the united support of the city's African American bus riders, a notion that was unprecedented, untested, and likely to fail, given past experience. After some fits and starts in trying to find an appropriate test case, they finally found that test case when Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus. Rosa Parks’s arrest led directly to a city-wide bus boycott, during which members of the Black community willingly walked, shared rides, and worked out carpools for 381 days—despite continual resistance from white segregationists in the community.

Bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, currently in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF134576

Accompanying The Henry Ford’s acquisition of the Rosa Parks bus in 2001 was a binder of newspaper clippings recounting the events of Rosa Parks’s arrest and the ensuing bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. These had been clipped, dated, taped onto pieces of blank white paper, and compiled in chronological order into a binder by Montgomery bus station manager Charles “Homer” Cummings.

I had initially naively thought that these articles would contain a neat, objective recounting of the bus boycott. A closer perusal, however, revealed that this was, of course, not the case. Newspaper journalists write with a story-based angle in mind, one that will capture the attention of their readers—and these accounts are no exception. Moreover, even though the newspapers included here—primarily the Montgomery Advertiser—had a large following among both Black and white citizens, the journalists who wrote these articles were white, as were the newspaper company owners, the Montgomery city bus company owners and operators, and the local Montgomery government that maintained ties with both of these.

Keeping these perspectives in mind, this selection of clippings—with occasional added content to provide context—provides a portal to the events that unfolded during the first three months of the twelve-month boycott. These clippings not only offer a powerful lens into how quickly and deeply the boycott divided members of the Montgomery community, but they also uncover a clear sense of the Black community’s collective strength and resilience when faced with continual obstacles.

Note that the images below were adapted from the original articles to emphasize the headlines if you want to read the entire articles or see the original scrapbook pages, you can find links to those pages in the image captions.

/>“5000 at Meeting Outline Boycott Bullet Clips Bus,” by Joe Azbell, Montgomery Advertiser, December 5, 1955 / adapted from THF147008

As the boycott began, an estimated 90–100% of local African Americans chose to participate. They walked, shared rides, and worked out carpools

This “mass demonstration of black pride” took by surprise the city’s white leaders, who were certain the boycott would end soon. Mayor W.A. Gayle was said to have remarked, “comes the first rainy day and the Negroes will be back on the buses.

But the Black community held fast and strengthened their resolve, inspired by ongoing mass meetings led by community and church leaders. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., arose as a key leader, increasingly articulating a vision for nonviolent protest.

“Negroes to Continue Boycott,” Montgomery Advertiser, December 5, 1955 / adapted from THF147011

According to this article, on the evening of the first day of the boycott, “an estimated 5000 hymn-singing Negroes” packed the Holt Street Baptist Church and voted to continue “a racial boycott against the Montgomery City buses.” The “emotional group” unanimously passed a resolution “with roaring applause” to extend the boycott beyond the first day, refraining from riding city buses “until the bus situation is settled to the satisfaction of its patrons.”

Detailed in the article is the speech given at the meeting by “the Rev. M.L. King, pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church,” who told the crowd that the “tools of justice” must be used to attain the “day of freedom, justice and equality.” He urged “unity of Negroes,” for “we must stick together and work together if we are to win and we will win in standing up for our rights as Americans.”

City officials assumed there would be violence but found little. The headline of this article reported that a bullet hit the rear of a city bus but further reading revealed that the bus driver could not determine from where it had been fired.

“Bus Boycott Conference Fails to Find Solution,” Montgomery Advertiser, December 9, 1955 / adapted from THF147024

On December 8, a delegation of Black leaders issued a formal list of requests to the city bus company and political officials, one of several attempts to reach a compromise. Led by Rev. King, the Black delegation assured bus company officials that “they were not demanding an end to segregated seating (as this was the law).” Instead, they issued three requests: more courteous treatment on the buses the hiring of Black drivers on routes serving Black neighborhoods and a first-come-first-serve seating by race, back to front and front to back, with no one having to give up their seat or stand over an empty seat.

City and bus company officials expressed surprise at these grievances and refused to comply with them. The bus company responded only by disciplining a few of its employees while avoiding the larger questions of systemic racial inequity and injustice on city buses. They also declared that they had no intention of hiring “Negro drivers” (stating “the time is not right in Montgomery”) and dismissed the third demand as illegal under existing segregation laws.

According to the article, Rev. King’s response was simple: “We are merely trying to peacefully obtain better accommodations for Negroes.”

“Notice to Bus Patrons,” Montgomery Advertiser, December 10, 1955 / adapted from THF147026

The Montgomery city bus company, lacking its usual business, soon raised fares, cut services to Black neighborhoods, begged local citizens to use the buses for Christmas shopping, and asked the city for help. The year ended with the mayor and other city officials determined to get tough, to find new ways of dealing with the Black community’s united display of nonviolent resistance to segregation with their own united response.

“Negro Rule in Boycott Is to Walk,” Alabama Journal, December 12, 1955 / adapted from THF147029

As the boycott continued into the second week, Black taxicab operators told their drivers to charge only 10 cents a person for Black passengers—the same price as bus fare. Almost immediately, Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers threatened to arrest any Black taxi driver who charged less than the minimum 45-cent fare.

Responding to this, Black leaders implemented a carpool system to support citizens taking part in the boycott. They called on car owners to volunteer their vehicles and urged those with licenses to volunteer as drivers. Ministers also volunteered to drive cars. These “car pools” had to be organized and executed precisely, with an intricate web of pickup and drop-off points that were developed by postal workers who knew the layout of neighborhoods.

Eventually 275 to 300 Black-owned vehicles transported thousands of boycotters, while thousands more walked. As the article described, “None thumbed rides. As each car passed, the Negro driver would inquire of the men and women on the street corner where they were going. If they were going in the same direction, they loaded in.” In addition, “scores of Negroes were walking, their lunches in brown paper sacks under their arms. None spoke to white people. They exchanged little talk among themselves. It was an event almost solemn.”

While the newspaper article claimed that the police were out in force to “protect” the boycotters, in fact, police harassment was formidable. Local police pulled over cars, intimidated drivers, and gave tickets for real or imagined infractions.

“White Citizens of Central Alabama / Rally to the Support of Your Central Alabama Citizens Council,” Montgomery Advertiser, December 15, 1955 / adapted from THF147035

This announcement is a membership appeal to white segregationists in the Montgomery community. In Fall 1955, a local group of the White Citizen’s Council (WCC) had been established in Montgomery to provide organized economic, political, and at times physical resistance to impending desegregation. Before the boycott, the council had less than 100 members. But after the boycott started, membership swelled to 14,000 members in three months.

The WCC played an increasing role in public life, believing that white citizens’ way of life was under siege. Whites were pressured to join—in fact, it was dangerous to be white and not join, as such people could be accused of sympathizing with the Black community.

“Mayor Stops Boycott Talk,” Montgomery Advertiser, January 24, 1956 / adapted from THF147077

In January, tensions were rising. The Montgomery bus company was on the verge of bankruptcy. WCC members supported economic reprisals. Mayor Gayle, who had been previously known as “pleasant and easy to approach,” now felt increased pressure from hardline segregationists, and urged putting an end to the boycott. Leaders of the Black community continued to take the stance that, “More than 99 per cent of the Negro citizens of Montgomery have stated their positions and it remains the same. The bus protest is still on and it will last until our proposals are given sympathetic treatment.”

But Mayor Gayle had had enough. This article describes his new “get tough” policy—stating that he would hold the line against integration and that there would be “no more discussions with the Negro boycott leaders until they are ready to end the boycott.” According to the article, Gayle remarked that, “We have pussyfooted around on this boycott long enough and it has come time to be frank and honest.” Furthermore, he made the accusation that, “The Negro leaders have proved they are not interested in ending the boycott but rather in prolonging it so that they may stir up racial strife.”

The city commissioners and members of the WCC were convinced that most Blacks wanted to ride the buses, but that they were tricked and manipulated by the boycott leaders, whom city officials began to refer to as “a group of Negro radicals.” Furthermore, they assumed that there was a single instigator behind the boycott, someone behind it who was inciting otherwise cooperative Black community members to boycott. They pinpointed Rev. King as that instigator, certain that getting rid of him would put an end to the boycott once and for all. They attacked King through words (calling him, among other names, a “troublesome outsider”) and, soon, through action.

“End to Free ‘Taxi Service,’” Montgomery Advertiser, January 25, 1956 / adapted from THF147081

One of Mayor Gayle’s first moves in his new “get tough” policy was to crack down on Black carpool drivers, especially urging white Montgomerians to halt the practice of using their automobiles as “taxi services for Negro maids and cooks who work for them.” As Gayle remarked, “When a white person gives a Negro a single penny for transportation or helps a Negro with his transportation, even if it’s a block ride, he is helping the Negro radicals who lead the boycott.” He also insisted, “We are not going to be a part of any program that will get Negroes to ride the buses again at the price of the destruction of our heritage and way of life.”

At this point, police were told to step up their issuing of tickets to Black drivers, whether they were deserved or not. They also harassed boycotters waiting at pickup stations, accusing some of “vagrancy.”

“None Injured after Bombing of King Home,” Montgomery Advertiser, January 31, 1956 / adapted from THF147091

Once city and WCC leaders (now one and the same) decided that Rev. King was the “ringleader” of the boycott, they focused their efforts on going after him. They arrested him for speeding and threw him in jail—attracting bigger and noisier mass meetings and more determination by the Black community to continue the boycott. King received threatening letters and phone calls from both angry white segregationists and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

This anger led to outright violence on January 30, when a bomb was thrown through a window of King’s home. As a crowd of about 300 anxious members of the Black community gathered outside his house, Rev. King asked the group to be “peaceful.” “I did not start this boycott,” he told the crowd. “I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped this movement will not stop. If I am stopped our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”

"Grand Jurors Told to Probe Legality of Bus Boycott," Alabama Journal, February 13, 1956 / adapted from THF147126

The month of February saw both sides digging in, strengthening their resolve. The racial divide grew wider. White pushback increased, with more arrests. Black determination gained strength.

Continuing the Mayor’s “get tough” policy, a local circuit judge impaneled a Montgomery County grand jury to determine whether the bus boycott was legal. “If it is illegal,” Mayor Gayle said, “the boycott must be stopped.” He declared the jurors to be the “supreme inquisitorial body” and called the grand jury system “democracy in action.”

“Plan to End Bus Boycott is Rejected,” Mobile Register, February 21, 1956 / adapted from THF147150

This article reports that, on the eve of the grand jury report, Black leaders rejected a supposed “compromise plan for ending the boycott.” They argued that they did not see any change. The proposed seating was similar to the plan they had already rejected. Promises for driver courtesy were not called out and individual bus drivers still had the authority to assign seats. Finally, boycotters were not promised that there would be no retaliation against them for their participation in the boycott. At a mass meeting, the Black community voted to continue the boycott with a count of 3,998 to 2.

In “a prepared statement following the meeting,” Rev. Ralph Abernathy stated that, “We have walked for 11 weeks in the cold and rain. Now the weather is warming up. Therefore, we will walk on until some better proposals are forthcoming from our city fathers.”

“The protest is still on,” he confirmed, “and approximately 50,000 colored persons have stated that they will continue to walk.”

“75 Nabbed by Deputies on Boycott Indictments,” Montgomery Advertiser, February 23, 1956 / adapted from THF147165

The city called more than 200 Blacks to testify before the grand jury, including King, 23 other ministers, and all carpool drivers. The indictment was based upon an obscure 1921 state law prohibiting boycotts “without just cause or legal excuse” (and referencing an earlier 1903 law that outlawed boycotts in response to Black streetcar protests). Those indicted were accused of taking an “active part in the 12-week-old racial boycott” against the Montgomery City lines buses.

Rev. Abernathy called it a “a great injustice.” Many indicted boycott leaders showed defiance by voluntarily turning themselves in and drawing attention away from singular blame on Martin Luther King. Hundreds of Black spectators shouted encouragement, cheered, and applauded as leaders showed up one by one to be “taken through the arrest process at the county jail.” The act of being arrested had become a badge of honor.

"Boycotters Plan ‘Passive’ Battle," Montgomery Advertiser, February 24, 1956 / adapted from THF147180

The boycott indictments strengthened the resolve of the Black community. At a mass meeting that an estimated 5,000 attended, Black leaders called for a Prayer and Pilgrimage Day and asked all Black citizens to walk that day.

The Central Alabama White Citizens Council was incensed about the continuation of the boycott. State Senator Sam Englehardt of Macon County, Chairman of the Central Alabama Citizens’ Council, said, “If these people [who were indicted] succeed in getting the Negroes of Montgomery to break this law, and get away with it, then who’s to say what unlawful act they will advocate next?”

Rosa Parks reflected the feelings of the Black community that day by remarking, “The white segregationists tried to put pressure to stop us. Instead of stopping us, they would encourage us to go on.”

These events, as documented through a selection of newspaper clippings compiled in a bus manager’s scrapbook, mark just the first three months of the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott went on to last more than one year—381 days to be exact—with members of the Black community enduring continual arrests, bombings, jailing, threats, and general harassment until the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared segregation on Alabama buses to be unconstitutional. Before it was over, it would become what Julian Bond referred to in his book as nothing short of “a struggle to achieve democracy in the mid-20 th century.”

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks also to Hannah Glodich, Graphic Designer at The Henry Ford, for adapting the original scrapbook pages into the images shown in this post.

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54b. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rosa Parks rode at the front of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus on the day the Supreme Court's ban on segregation of the city's buses took effect. A year earlier, she had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

On a cold December evening in 1955, Rosa Parks quietly incited a revolution &mdash by just sitting down.

She was tired after spending the day at work as a department store seamstress. She stepped onto the bus for the ride home and sat in the fifth row &mdash the first row of the " Colored Section ."

In Montgomery, Alabama, when a bus became full, the seats nearer the front were given to white passengers.

Montgomery bus driver James Blake ordered Parks and three other African Americans seated nearby to move ("Move y'all, I want those two seats,") to the back of the bus.

Three riders complied Parks did not.

The following excerpt of what happened next is from Douglas Brinkley's 2000 Rosa Park's biography.

"Are you going to stand up?" the driver demanded. Rosa Parks looked straight at him and said: "No." Flustered, and not quite sure what to do, Blake retorted, "Well, I'm going to have you arrested." And Parks, still sitting next to the window, replied softly, "You may do that."

After Parks refused to move, she was arrested and fined $10. The chain of events triggered by her arrest changed the United States.

King, Abernathy, Boycott, and the SCLC

Martin Luther King Jr. was the first president of the Mongomery Improvement Association, which organized the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. This began a chain reaction of similar boycotts throughout the South. In 1956, the Supreme Court voted to end segregated busing.

In 1955, a little-known minister named Martin Luther King Jr. led the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Henry David Thoreau's work "Civil Disobedience" provided inspiration for many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

King studied the writings and practices of Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi . Their teaching advocated civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to social injustice.

A staunch devotee of nonviolence, King and his colleague Ralph Abernathy were a part of a community organization, the MONTGOMERY IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION (MIA), which organized a boycott of Montgomery's buses .

The demands they made were simple: Black passengers should be treated with courtesy. Seating should be allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis, with white passengers sitting from front to back and black passengers sitting from back to front. And African American drivers should drive routes that primarily serviced African Americans. On Monday, December 5, 1955 the boycott went into effect.

Don't Ride the Bus

In 1955, the Women's Political Council issued a leaflet calling for a boycott of Montgomery buses.

Don't ride the bus to work, to town, to school, or any place Monday, December 5.

Another Negro Woman has been arrested and put in jail because she refused to give up her bus seat.

Don't ride the buses to work to town, to school, or any where on Monday. If you work, take a cab, or share a ride, or walk.

Come to a mass meeting, Monday at 7:00 P.M. at the Holt Street Baptist Church for further instruction.

Montgomery officials stopped at nothing in attempting to sabotage the boycott. King and Abernathy were arrested. Violence began during the action and continued after its conclusion. Four churches &mdash as well as the homes of King and Abernathy &mdash were bombed. But the boycott continued.

Together with Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy (shown here) organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped lead the nonviolent struggle to overturn Jim Crow laws.

The MIA had hoped for a 50 percent support rate among African Americans. To their surprise and delight, 99 percent of the city's African Americans refused to ride the buses. People walked to work or rode their bikes, and carpools were established to help the elderly. The bus company suffered thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Finally, on November 23, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the MIA. Segregated busing was declared unconstitutional. City officials reluctantly agreed to comply with the Court Ruling. The black community of Montgomery had held firm in their resolve.

The Montgomery bus boycott triggered a firestorm in the South. Across the region, blacks resisted "moving to the back of the bus." Similar actions flared up in other cities. The boycott put Martin Luther King Jr. in the national spotlight. He became the acknowledged leader of the nascent Civil Rights Movement .

With Ralph Abernathy, King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

This organization was dedicated to fighting Jim Crow segregation. African Americans boldly declared to the rest of the country that their movement would be peaceful, organized, and determined.

To modern eyes, getting a seat on a bus may not seem like a great feat. But in 1955, sitting down marked the first step in a revolution.

(1955) Martin Luther King Jr., “The Montgomery Bus Boycott”

The Montgomery Bus Boycott speech reprinted below is one of the first major addresses of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King spoke to nearly 5,000 people at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery on December 5, 1955, just four days after Mrs. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus. That arrest led to the first major civil rights campaign in the Deep South in half a century. In this speech King urges the audience which has just voted to boycott the buses to continue that campaign until they achieve their goal of ending the humiliation and intimation of black citizens there and elsewhere in Montgomery or to use his words, “..to gain justice on the buses in the city.”

My FRIENDS, we are certainly very happy to see each of you out this evening. We are here this evening for serious business. We are here in a general sense because first and foremost we are American citizens and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. We are here also because of our love for democracy, because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.

But we are here in a specific sense, because of the bus situation in Montgomery. We are here because we are determined to get the situation corrected. This situation is not at all new. The problem has existed over endless years. For many years now Negroes in Montgomery and so many other areas have been inflicted with the paralysis of crippling fears on buses in our community. On so many occasions, Negroes have been intimidated and humiliated and impressed-oppressed-because of the sheer fact that they were Negroes. I don’t have time this evening to go into the history of these numerous cases. Many of them now are lost in the thick fog of oblivion but at least one stands before us now with glaring dimensions.

Just the other day, just last Thursday to be exact, one of the finest citizens in Montgomery not one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens in Montgomery-was taken from a bus and carried to jail and because she refused to get up to give her seat to a white person. Now the press would have us believe that she refused to leave a reserved section for Negroes but I want you to know this evening that there is no reserved section. The law has never been clarified at that point. Now I think I speak with, with legal authority-not that I have any legal authority, but I think I speak with legal authority behind me -that the law, the ordinance, the city ordinance has never been totally clarified.

Mrs. Rosa Parks is a fine person. And, since it had to happen, I’m happy that it happened to a person like Mrs. Parks, for nobody can doubt the boundless outreach of her integrity. Nobody can doubt the height of her character nobody can doubt the depth of her Christian commitment and devotion to the teachings of Jesus. And I’m happy since it had to happen, it happened to a person that nobody can call a disturbing factor in the community. Mrs. Parks is a fine Christian person, unassuming, and yet there is integrity and character there. And just because she refused to get up, she was arrested.

And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.

We are here, we are here this evening because we’re tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That’s all.

And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime we couldn’t do this. But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. My friends, don’t let anybody make us feel that we are
to be compared in our actions with the Ku Klux Klan or with the White Citizens Council. There will be no crosses burned at any bus stops in Montgomery. There will be no white persons pulled out of their homes and taken out on some distant road and lynched for not cooperating. There will be nobody amid, among us who will stand up and defy the Constitution of this nation. We only assemble here because of our desire to see right exist. My friends, I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city.

And we are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie. Love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I want to say that in all of our actions we must stick together. Unity is the great need of the hour, and if we are united we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. And don’t let anybody frighten you. We are not afraid of what we are doing because we are doing it within the law. There is never a time in our American democracy that we must ever think we’re wrong when we protest. We reserve that right. When labor all over this nation came to see that it would be trampled over by capitalistic power, it was nothing wrong with labor getting together and organizing and
protesting for its rights.

We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality. May I say to you my friends, as I come to a close, and just giving some idea of why we are assembled here, that we must keep-and I want to stress this, in all of our doings, in all of our deliberations here this evening and all of the week and while—whatever we do, we must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our actions. But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian face, faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.

The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, “I love you, Israel.” He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: “Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.” Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we’ve come to see that we’ve got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation.

As we stand and sit here this evening and as we prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, let us go out with a grim and bold determination that we are going to stick together. We are going to work together. Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future somebody will have to say, “There lived a race of people a black people, ‘fleecy locks and black complexion’, a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.” And we’re gonna do that. God grant that we will do it before it is too late. As we proceed with our program let us think of these things.

But just before leaving I want to say this. I want to urge you. You have voted [for this boycott], and you have done it with a great deal of enthusiasm, and I want to express my appreciation to you, on behalf of everybody here. Now let us go out to stick together and stay with this thing until the end. Now it means sacrificing, yes, it means sacrificing at points. But there are some things that we’ve got to learn to sacrifice for. And we’ve got to come to the point that we are determined not to accept a lot of things that we have been accepting in the past.

So I’m urging you now. We have the facilities for you to get to your jobs, and we are putting, we have the cabs there at your service. Automobiles will be at your service, and don’t be afraid to use up any of the gas. If you have it, if you are fortunate enough to have a little money, use it for a good cause. Now my automobile is gonna be in it, it has been in it, and I’m not concerned about how much gas I’m gonna use. I want to see this thing work. And we will not be content until oppression is wiped out of Montgomery, and really out of America. We won’t be content until that is done. We are merely insisting on the dignity and worth of every human personality. And I don’t stand here, I’m not arguing for any selfish person. I’ve never been on a bus in Montgomery. But I would be less than a Christian if I stood back and said, because I don’t ride the bus, I don’t have to ride a bus, that it doesn’t concern me. I will not be content. I can hear a voice saying, “If you do it unto the least of these, my brother, you do it unto me.”

And I won’t rest I will face intimidation, and everything else, along with these other stalwart fighters for democracy and for citizenship. We don’t mind it, so long as justice comes out of it. And I’ve come to see now that as we struggle for our rights, maybe some of them will have to die. But somebody said, if a man doesn’t have something that he’ll die for, he isn’t fit to live.

People, Locations, Episodes

On this date in 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott occurred. This was one of the pivotal starting points of the modern American Civil Rights movement.

In Montgomery, Alabama, segregation was a part of everyday life. Blacks who lived there faced Jim Crow Laws in places such as parks, schools, restrooms, theaters, and buses. The laws of the country made it hard for Blacks to register and participate in elections. The justice system discriminated against them, unjustly jailing and prosecuting many while banning them from holding public office. One particular area of bitterness among Montgomery Blacks of that era was the segregation law of the bus system. Although Blacks were the majority, they were forced to adhere to oppressive conditions on buses. The bus drivers, all of whom were white, treated Blacks with racist and abusive attitudes, often calling their passenger's derogatory names such as "nigger,” "Black cow," and "Black ape."

They often required Blacks to pay their fares in the front of the bus, and then walk to the back door to board the bus. Sometimes, though, bus drivers would take off before the passenger could get on, leaving their passenger behind. While this practice often angered Blacks, the practices of "White-only" seating angered them even more. The law stated that Blacks could not sit in front of the bus, regardless of whether the seats were empty or not.

After Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, the news of this event spread through the Black community. Community members decided that a boycott of the bus system was long overdue. Jo-Ann Robinson of the Women's Political Committee began to organize a one-day protest. When the word spread about the protest, several other Black leaders wanted to convene.

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 got underway. To resourcefully carry out this goal, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed, with King as their leader. The MIA adopted a plan of action for the protest that was officially to begin on December 5th. The resolution stated three demands: 1) Blacks would not ride the buses until polite treatment by bus drivers were guaranteed to them. 2) Segregation must be abolished on buses and a first-come-first-served policy adapted and 3) Black bus drivers must be employed. Deciding that they could no longer fight the county of Montgomery, Black leaders filed a federal lawsuit against Montgomery's segregation laws, because they were not in accordance with the 14th amendment.

On May 11, 1956, the case was heard before a three-panel federal court. About three weeks later in a two to one decision, the court decided that the segregation laws were indeed unconstitutional. The Montgomery County lawyers immediately appealed the decision in the Supreme Court. While the boycotters were waiting for the Supreme Court to rule, the protest continued.

During that time, incidents continued to try to intimidate the leaders to end the movement. Reverend Robert Graetz, a white minister, who served a predominately Black church, had his house bombed. The mayor denounced the incident as a publicity stunt by Blacks and reiterated that whites did not care if the boycott lasted forever. Harassment by cops increased and insurance policies continued to be canceled. The law was making it almost impossible for the carpool system to take place and eventually the city filed suit against leaders of the movement, citing that the carpool was a "public nuisance" and an illegal "private enterprise." On November 13, 1956, leaders readied to face one of the darkest days of the movement, knowing that without the car-pool system people might be forced to ride the buses.

While in Montgomery waiting for the decision about the carpools, King received a message from the federal court. It simply stated that "the motion to affirm is granted and the judgment is affirmed,” meaning that the Supreme Court supported the decision that segregation on the buses was illegal. The next night the official boycott was called to a conclusion, but it was soon revealed that the order would not reach Montgomery for about a month. Faced with the obstacle of not being able to participate in carpools, a “share a ride” system was worked out and the buses remained empty for another 30 days.

On December 20, 1956, the mandate came to Montgomery. The next day, King, Abernathy, and Nixon were the first to integrate the buses. The boycott was over.

Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History
Volume 1, ISBN #0-02-897345-3, Pg 175
Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, Cornel West

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The first large scale demonstration opposing segregation was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott began on December 5, 1955, and lasted until December 20, 1956. During this civil rights protest, African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to use the city bus system. While the black community had been fed up with the discriminatory busing system for years, the straw that broke the camels back came on December 1, 1955.

After a long day’s work, the 42-year-old Rosa Parks climbed onto the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery. She sat near the middle of the bus, behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers. As the bus traveled along its route, the white-only seats began to fill up quickly. The driver of the bus, James F. Blake, went to the middle of the bus and moved the “colored” sign further back to allow more white passengers a place to sit. Blake told Parks and three other black individuals to get up, so the white passengers could sit. Parks refused to give in to his demand, an action that would leave a permanent mark on history and the civil rights movement.

After Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she was arrested. Parks was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of Montgomery City code. After her arrest and booking, Clifford Durr and Edgar Nixon, the president of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, bailed Parks out of jail. Four days later, members of the Women’s Political Council (WPC) came together to begin the Montgomery bus boycott. After a year-long struggle, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Browder v. Gayle that the city of Montgomery had to desegregate public transportation.

Bus Boycott Begins - History

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was one of the major events in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It signaled that a peaceful protest could result in the changing of laws to protect the equal rights of all people regardless of race.

Before 1955, segregation between the races was common in the south. This meant that public areas such as schools, rest rooms, water fountains, and restaurants had separate areas for black people and white people. This was also true of public transportation such as buses and trains. There were areas where black people could sit and other areas where white people could sit.

Rosa Parks by Unknown

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks was taking the bus home from work in Montgomery, Alabama. She was already sitting down and was in the row closest to the front for black people. When the bus began to fill up, the driver told the people in Rosa's row to move back in order to make room for a white passenger. Rosa was tired of being treated like a second class person. She refused to move. Rosa was then arrested and fined $10.

Although other people had been arrested for similar infractions, it was Rosa's arrest that sparked a protest against segregation. Civil rights leaders and ministers got together to organize a day to boycott the buses. That meant that for one day black people would not ride the buses. They picked December 5th. They handed out pamphlets so people would know what to do and on December 5th around 90% of black people in Montgomery did not ride the buses.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The boycott was planned at a meeting in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s church. They formed a group called the Montgomery Improvement Association with Martin Luther King, Jr. as the leader. After the first day of the boycott, the group voted to continue the boycott. King made a speech about the boycott where he said "If we are wrong, the Supreme Court is wrong, …the Constitution is wrong, . God Almighty is wrong."

In order to get to work, black people carpooled, walked, rode bicycles, and used horse-drawn buggies. Black taxi drivers lowered their fares to ten cents, which was the same price as a bus fare. Despite not riding the bus, black people found ways to travel by organizing and working together.

Some white people were not happy with the boycott. The government got involved by fining taxi drivers who did not charge at least 45 cents for a ride. They also indicted many of the leaders on the grounds that they were interfering with a business. Martin Luther King Jr. was ordered to pay a $500 fine. He ended up getting arrested and spent two weeks in jail.

Some of the white citizens turned to violence. They firebombed Martin Luther King Jr.'s home as well as several black churches. Sometimes the boycotters were attacked while walking. Despite this, King was adamant that the protests remain non-violent. In a speech to some angry protesters he said "We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us."

How long did the boycott last?

The boycott lasted for over a year. It finally ended on December 20, 1956 after 381 days.

President Obama in the Rosa Parks Bus
by Pete Souza

The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought the subject of racial segregation to the forefront of American politics. A lawsuit was filed against the racial segregation laws. On June 4, 1956 the laws were determined unconstitutional. The boycott had worked in that black people were now allowed to sit wherever they wanted to on the bus. In addition, the boycott had created a new leader for the civil rights movement in Martin Luther King, Jr.


Not only were buses segregated, with white riders at the front and black ones in the back, if there were no free black seats black riders had to stand, even if there were free white seats. Furthermore, if there were more white riders than white seats, black riders had to surrender their seats. [3] : 184

Jakes and Patterson boarded a city bus and sat in the only open seats, which were next to a white woman. The driver declared that the two women could not sit where they were sitting, and Jakes agreed to get off the bus if she received her bus fare in return. The driver would not return Jakes' bus fare and drove to a service station, where he then called the police, who subsequently arrested the women. Later that day, the students were bailed out by the Dean of Students. [4]

The day after the incident, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of the women's residence. [2] : 28 News of the cross-burning quickly spread throughout the campus, and Student Government Association officers, led by Brodes Hartley, called for a meeting of the student body. The incidents (the cross-burning and the arrest) were discussed in the meeting. Student leaders called for the withdrawal of student support of the bus company and for students to seek participation in the boycott throughout the community. Reverend Steele, a member of the Tallahassee Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) and leader in the NAACP, organized a mass meeting that night. In the meeting, the Inter-Civic Council (ICC) was born from the joining of the NAACP, IMA, and Tallahassee Civic League. The ICC was formed in response to community fear that a NAACP-led protest would be met with state repression. Its leaders held weekly meetings and the Council was highly active in Civil Rights-related activism. The NAACP became involved well after the boycott had been started, when leaders sent a lawyer to defend drivers of boycotters (carpool drivers) who were arrested for driving unlicensed "for hire" vehicles. [4]

Three months into the boycott, the demand for the employment of black bus drivers was met. For months after Browder v. Gayle, the government upheld de facto segregation, with the instantiation of an ordinance mandating assigned seats on buses. That led to arrests of blacks who did not sit in the seats assigned to them. Efforts persisted in resisting bus segregation and enforcement of the ordinance became less strict, when blacks again rode the buses.

In 1959, members of the Tallahassee InterCivic Council tested the success of the boycott by riding the newly-integrated buses they found that the integration was successful. [4]

Sociologist Lewis Killian points out that organizational and community leaders did not gather until after the initiation of the boycott, which highlights the spontaneity of the student-initiated boycott. Furthermore, the boycott was initiated during a time in which Tallahassee's civil rights-related organizational activity was markedly low and the black community in Tallahassee was unprepared for a protest as large as the boycott.

The creation of the ICC provides an example of the emergence of new norms and structures. Although it is widely believed that the centers of Civil Rights Movement activity were organizational and structural bodies such as the black church and the NAACP, a new normative structure emerged in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott.

The boycott presents an overlooked departure from the circumstances of the Montgomery bus boycott, which was planned and precipitated by active individuals and organizations in addition, the Tallahassee boycott, at least in its initial stages, was separate from and did not model the latter.

Killian finds the formation of the ICC and the spontaneous and irregular nature of the boycott's initiation commensurate with traditional collective behavior theory, which includes such superficially irrational elements as spontaneity. [4] [5]

Bloody Sunday, demonstration in Londonderry (Derry), Northern Ireland, on Sunday, January 30, 1972, by Roman Catholic civil rights supporters that turned violent when British paratroopers opened fire, killing 13 and injuring 14 others (one of the injured later died).

Eventually, the march went on unimpeded — and the echoes of its significance reverberated so loudly in Washington, D.C., that Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which secured the right to vote for millions and ensured that Selma was a turning point in the battle for justice and equality in the United States.

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