Learn something new every day
More Info... by email
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a famous incident in the American Civil Rights Movement which many people credit with paving the way to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other legislation designed to prevent discrimination against people on the basis of their skin color. It has also become an emblem of the Civil Rights Movement for many people, illustrating the power of organized protest, and it has inspired many diverse protests, ranging from lunch counter sit ins to anti-war marches.
The roots of the Montgomery Bus Boycott lie in a man named E.D. Nixon, an activist who wanted to fight the traditionally segregated buses of Montgomery, Alabama, as part of the larger and still nascent Civil Rights Movement. Nixon led a number of workshops which African-American activists took part in, and initially he thought he had a starting point for a protest when a teenager named Claudette Colvin was arrested for failing to give up her seat to a white man. However, Colvin was pregnant, and Nixon felt that she would not make a good rallying point.
In late 1955, a seamstress named Rosa Parks boarded a bus and sat in the fifth row, the first row that blacks were allowed to sit in, along with several others. The bus slowly started to fill up, and eventually a white man boarded the bus and couldn't find anywhere to sit in the front. The others in the fifth row got up to allow the man to sit down, but Rosa Parks refused to budge, and she was arrested as a result. Nixon had found his rallying point, and he quickly got the local black community into action.
On 1 December, 1955, the black community voted to boycott the bus system until it was desegregated. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, as it came to be called, lasted until 20 December, 1956, when the Supreme Court finally decided that the segregation of buses was unconstitutional, and required the integration of Montgomery's bus system. The success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott inspired other communities to take action, and it was the making of prominent activists like Martin Luther King.
For the black community, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was far from easy. Many people didn't have cars, relying on a friendly taxi system of friends, neighbors, and church-owned vehicles to sustain the boycott. Numerous people were arrested and charged under laws which made such boycotts illegal, and it took several legal challenges to reach the Supreme Court victory. The success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott illustrates the power that a group of people can have when they set their minds to something, whether it be the end of segregation or the establishment of a colony on Mars.
I find it interesting that Rosa Parks was originally seated in a section open to black riders. I had always thought she deliberately took a seat in the "Whites Only" section and refused to move when ordered. The fact that she was in a row of seats that was perfectly legal for blacks makes the background story even more disturbing. She didn't move because she wasn't required to move. She was well within her rights (such as they were for blacks) not to move. This was more of an act of social defiance on her part, not a specifically illegal act.
Rosa Parks' actions that day helped galvanize the early Civil Rights movement, even if her participation may have been
orchestrated by others seeking a test case for the Montgomery segregation laws. Considering how this situation could have easily ended in violence, she is to be commended in perpetuity for her courage and commitment during a dark time in Alabama and national history.