The boycott on Montgomery bus was triggered following the detention of Rosa Parks on 1st December 1955. The protest ended 13 months later, following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that discrimination on public buses violates the constitution. The protest was organized by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. Following the boycott, King became a famous civil rights leader since there was much attention paid by the international community on Montgomery. It illustrated the possibility for peaceful mass demonstration to challenge racial prejudice effectively. The boycott as well became an example for more southern movements that came after that. In his 1958 article titled Stride Toward Freedom, King declared the true implication of the protest on the Montgomery bus as a motivation for developing the confidence to sentient struggle to protect civil rights.
The foundation of the protest began years before the arrest of Rosa Parks. A group of black experts, the Women Political Council, established in 1946, had initially focused on Jim Crow activities on the Montgomery city buses. Members of the council outlined the reforms they sought for in the bus system during a meeting with Mayor W. A. Gayle in 1954. According to the council:
No person was supposed to stand over empty seats
Black people should not be forced to make payment at the front of the vehicle and board from behind
A rule to be established that required all buses to make a stop at each station in residential areas of people of color as it was the case with white communities.
The meeting did not bear fruits; therefore, WPC president Jo Ann Robinson restated the requests of the council in a letter to Gayle on May 21, 1954. She told the mayor that there had been a consensus from 25 or more local associations to boycott the buses.
Twelve months after the WPC meeting, Claudette Colvin was detained for challenging discrimination on a Montgomery bus. This was followed seven months later by the arrest of an 18-year-old, Louise Smith. It was alleged that Smith declined to pave the way for a white passenger to have a seat. However, the two arrests did not bring together the people of color in Montgomery like the case of Rosa Parks.
In his writing, King referred to Parks as appropriate in the function historically given to her. Since Parks conduct was faultless, but arrested and termed severe, she is among the most esteemed figures in the entire community of the people of color. WPC, in conjunction with Robinson, reacted to Parks detention by mobilizing a one-day boycott of the Montgomery city buses on 5th December 1955. Robinson wrote several flyers at Alabama State College and mobilized people to issue the leaflets in the entire black community. Later on, the black community managed to secure bail for Parks. As a result, the former head of the Montgomery section of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), E.D. Nixon, called on leaders of the community for a meeting. The leaders of the black community included King and Ralph Abernathy. Ministers and other leaders of the blacks met on December 2 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. During the meeting, an agreement was reached to make public the December 5th protest. The scheduled demonstration received unforeseen exposure not only in the weekend newspapers, but also in television and radio news.
The protest was fruitful since 90 percent of the black people in Montgomery boycotted the buses. This made the ministers of the city and other leaders to convene a meeting meant to discuss the probability of extending the protest into a prolonged crusade. At the meeting, the MIA was established, and King became the president. The advantage of Dr. King becoming the leader was beneficial, in that, he was new to the city as well as the civil rights movement. King also did not have many friends or enemies.
The MIA decided to continue with the protest the same evening at a mass meeting. In his speech to thousands of black people, King pointed out that he wanted everyone to know that he was ready to work with the commitment to attain justice on the buses in Montgomery. He emphasized that there was nothing wrong for people to fight against segregation unless the U.S Supreme Court and the Constitution are wrong. The MIA released an official list of demands on December 8th following unsuccessful discussions with the bus corporation officials and the city commissioners. Some of the requirements included courtesy to be upheld by operators of the bus, seats to be given based on whoever comes first, and black bus operators to serve mainly their routes. Unfortunately, the demands were never met, prompting blacks to boycott the buses throughout 1956 amid moves by city commissioners and white residents to stop the protest. The MIA planned a carpool following the punishment of black taxi operators who supported the protestors. Following the advice by T. J. Jemison, who at one point led a carpool in a bus protest in Baton Rouge in 1953, a complex carpool system of approximately 300 cars, was organized. Although Robert Hughes among other Alabama Council for Human Relations officials planned meetings involving the MIA and commissioners of Montgomery, there was a consensus reached.
Black leaders did most of the publicity about the boycott, but women played an integral role in the breakthrough of the protest. Women such as Robinson, Irene West, and Johnnie Carr maintained the MIA volunteer movements and committees. The success of the protest was also attributed to the cooks and house cleaners who walked long distances for the whole year to breach the boundaries of discrimination. Dr. King, in his article, quoted an old woman who said that her joining the protest would not benefit her personally, but it would help her siblings to live in a discrimination-free country.
The trial of Dr. King and a nationwide coverage of the protest spurred support from personalities outside the city of Montgomery. For instance, veteran pacifists Glenn E. Smiley and Bayard Rustin came to Montgomery in 1956 and advised King to apply the Gandhian strategies and diplomacy to the U.S. race relations. Ella Baker, Rustin, as well as Stanley Levison established an association called In Friendship to contribute money in the Northern part so that they could support the South in their fight for civil rights, including the bus protest. King embraced the ideas from these supporters of peaceful direct action and established his personal syntheses of the principles of Gandhian for diplomacy. Through allusions, King said that Christ led the way, and Gandhi in India proved it could work. Other supporters of the Gandhian principles, including William Stuart Nelson, Richard Gregg, and Homer Jack, wrote the MIA offering support.
Following the bus boycott, the federal district court ruled on June 5, 1956, in Browder v. Gayle that bus discrimination violates the rights provided in the constitution. In November the same year, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the case and put in place policies requiring segregated seating on public buses. The ruling happened the same day that MIA and Dr. King moved to the circuit court to challenge the sanction against MIA carpools. Committed to continuing with the demonstration to the moment when the injunction of discrimination on buses reached Montgomery, the MIA worked in the absence of the carpool scheme for one more month. The Supreme Court sustained the decision made by the lower court, and on December 20, 1956, King called off the protest wherein the community agreed. The next day, Ralph Abernathy, King, Glenn Smiley, and E. D. Nixon boarded an integrated bus. In his final sentiments, King said of the protest that they finally saw it is rational to walk with respect as opposed to riding in humiliation. As a result, the black community had chosen to replace tired feet for tired souls and walked the streets of the city of Montgomery. His role in the bus protest attracted universal attention and strategy of MIA to use huge peaceful protests, and Christian ethics became the basis for challenging discrimination in the South.
In conclusion, the Montgomery bus boycott became successful because of the efforts of many black people. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., both men and women worked collaboratively to ensure that their demands were met. It is acknowledgeable that the arrest of Rosa Parks played a central role in ensuring that discrimination on buses stopped. Different organizations came into play not only locally, but also at the international level to condemn prejudice on city buses in Montgomery. The spirit of togetherness and diplomacy among the blacks made courts to see the unconstitutionality of segregation on buses.
Freedman, Russell. Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. New York: Holiday House, 2006.
Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York, NY: Open Road Integrated Media, 2015. <http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=1961673>.
King, Martin Luther. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. London: Souvenir Press, 2011. <http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=710414>.
Williams, Donnie, and Wayne Greenhaw. The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People Who Broke the Back of Jim Crow. Lawrence & Wishart Ltd, 2007.
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