June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Montgomery Bus Boycott

4 min read

If you haven’t already, make sure that you check out my last post: History Leading Up to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

With E.D. Nixon, Jo Ann Robinson, and Rosa Parks getting the bus boycott in motion, it wouldn’t be more than one or two days until Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy were hot on their heels in motivating the black community to partake in the boycotting. These men were determined that the black community receive their proper rights on Montgomery buses. With the previously mentioned pamphlets (see, you should have read my last post…) and the word of the boycott being spread in all the local churches, everyone was on-board for the bus boycott. (Haha, get it! On-board not being on-board the buses…..Whew, I crack myself up! You can look forward to several puns in this one! See how many you can spot.)

Martin Luther King, Jr. and others plan the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Monday morning rolled around and the bus stops were deserted. As I mentioned in my last post, 75% of the normal bus riders were black, so it was obvious to the community and the bus company that the black community was boycotting the Montgomery bus system. After the full day of boycotting, the community and church leaders met with E.D. Nixon, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy to discuss the future for the NAACP and their possible continued actions against the city’s bus system. Everyone agreed that a continued boycott would be effective and was needed to gain proper rights while riding the buses. In fact, as Martin Luther King, Jr. got in the driver’s seat and took control of the wheel to steer the boycott to success, he told the bus company and the city that they were not trying to integrate the buses, they just wanted to have fair Jim Crow laws; separate but equal. The long-standing abuses against blacks on buses were unacceptable and would no longer be tolerated. While separate but equal wasn’t what King ultimately wanted, it was an obtainable goal and was what was what the boycotters would require, as part of their terms and conditions, to end the boycott.

To continue the boycott, blacks (and whites supporting the cause) who owned cars established carpooling schedules. The black taxi drivers of Montgomery lowered their fares to match those which bus-riders would have paid to ride on the buses. It was less than a week before the white city officials and white business owners did their part to attempt to bring the boycott to a screeching halt. Laws were passed so quickly that it gave everyone keeping up with Montgomery’s legal system a case of whiplash. Immediately, series of  laws were passed: forcing cab drivers to charge full price, regulating and almost stopping carpooling, making it illegal to pick up hitchhikers, and even laws making walking down the street an arduous task. Most insurance companies were owned by (racist) white members of the community and they changed their policies so that cars participating in carpools couldn’t be covered.

Walking to Work. Sticking it to the Man!

When these “peaceful” attempts to break down the boycott proved to be unsuccessful, more unconventional and violent measures were taken. Protesters and boycotters were often physically attacked. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy’s homes were both firebombed, as were multiple churches. The city of Montgomery issued indictments against King and 89 other boycotters, charging them with “conspiring to interfere with a business.” King and the 89 decided to turn the other cheek, and as an act of deviance they turned themselves in rather than be arrested. King was given the option to pay a $500 fine or serve 386 days in jail; King chose to serve his time. King ended up serving two weeks in jail before he was released. The white business owners assumed that by jailing King, that he would become disheartened concerning the boycott. This, however, would not be the case. The arrest of King gave the boycott national attention and support. Black churches around the nation collected money and shoes. As the citizens of Montgomery had been hoofing it to work and back, by foot, for several months, everyone’s shoes had become tattered and were in need of replacement.

On February 1, 1956, the paperwork for Browder v Gayle was filed with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Aureila Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, Rosa Parks, and Mary Louise Smith were all black women mistreated by the Montgomery bus system and all agreed to serve as plaintiffs in the civil action lawsuit against the city. On June 4th, the court agreed that the segregation of the buses was unconstitutional and violated the separate but equal laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Due to appeals, the segregation was continued–as was the boycott. The case was kicked up to the Supreme Court and on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court also found the Montgomery bus system in violation of the 14th Amendment. This led to the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, and on December 20th, the boycott was officially over.

National Attention for the Civil Rights Movement
National Attention for the Civil Rights Movement

381 days after the arrest of Rosa Parks, the city of Montgomery finally had an equal public transportation option. This further proved the effectiveness of protest and boycotting and would be marked as the jumping off point of the National Civil Rights Movement. Because of his excellent and non-violent leadership skills–as demonstrated in the long and successful Montgomery Bus Boycott–Martin Luther King, Jr. would be launched in the national spotlight and become the leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

3 thoughts on “Montgomery Bus Boycott

  1. EXcellent! I had an inkling that there was more to it, but didn’t know how organized it all was. Thanks so much for writing about this. Both posts were excellent.

    1. The craziest thing is that when I went to the Montgomery Bus Boycott Museum at Troy University, in Montgomery, Alabama, they gave almost no mention to the fact that it was organized. Feel very, ummm, intentional. (For lack of a better word.) Like they want everyone to think that it was sporadic.

      1. That does seem odd. I’ve never been there. That’s the thing about history, it always has a perspective and thus the potential for bias. And it is a shameful period for us as a country so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was slanted. Hopefully we’re making progress and will continue to do so. As long as we keep learning and talking about it 🙂 Thanks again.

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