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Montgomery Bus Boycott

Dwight Eisenhower

Montgomery Bus Boycott: Dwight Eisenhower was the 34th American President who served in office from January 20, 1953 to January 20, 1961. One of the important events during his presidency was the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Definition and Summary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Summary and definition:
The Montgomery Bus Boycott  was sparked when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama on Thursday December 1, 1955. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began on Monday December 1, 1955 as a protest against segregation on public transport.

It was led by Martin Luther King, Jr. who had been appointed the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which had been organized in response to protests against the incident involving Rosa Parks. 

The Montgomery bus boycott lasted for 381 days whilst Martin Luther King, Jr. negotiated with city leaders for an end of segregation on public transport. NAACP lawyers successfully won the Browder vs. Gayle legal case in which the Supreme Court ended federal tolerance of racial segregation. The Montgomery Bus Boycott ended on December 21, 1956.

Facts about Montgomery Bus Boycott
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Background History: The Plessy vs. Ferguson Case of 1896 declared segregation to be constitutional which led to the Jim Crow Laws and the "separate but equal" doctrine relating to public facilities, including transportation via public trains and buses.

Background History: The “separate but equal” doctrine, first articulated in Plessy v. Ferguson, ruled that racial segregation was constitutional and valid under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as long as the facilities provided for blacks and whites were roughly equal.

Racially segregated facilities became common across the Southern states, separating public facilities for blacks and whites in parks, restaurants, rest rooms, waiting rooms, housing, schools, trains and buses.

In 1900, the city of Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance (local law or code) for the purpose of segregating passengers. Buses were segregated to provide "separate but equal" seating for white and black passengers.

The buses used a colored section sign "White Forward - Colored Rear". Black people sat at the back of the bus and never directly opposite a white person. The first four rows of seats on each Montgomery bus were reserved for whites. If more white passengers boarded the bus, the driver could move the sign back further.

Montgomery Bus drivers had a free hand in assigning seats and the "powers of a police officer of the city while in actual charge of any bus for the purposes of carrying out the provisions". Over time the drivers also adopted the custom of requiring black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers, when no other seats were available, although this practice was not specified in the city ordinance.

Some drivers also insisted that black passengers were not allowed to walk pass the "white section" at the front. On such occasions, they would pay their fare at the front, exit and walk to the mid-section entrance to re-enter the bus in order to take a seat at the back. Sometimes the drivers would drive off before the black passengers could re-board. If the bus filled up with white people the black passengers could be forced to leave, before their destination.

Rosa Parks was a 42 year old seamstress who worked at a Montgomery department store and traveled to and from work each day by bus. Rosa Parks was the wife of Raymond Parks, an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Rosa Parks helped as a secretary of the NAACP.

On Thursday December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks left work and boarded bus 2857 on the Cleveland Avenue, Montgomery City Bus Line in Alabama. She took a seat in the first of several rows designated for "colored" passengers. The bus filled up with white people so more seats were required.

The driver, James F. Blake, told Rosa Parks and three others to give up their seats for white passengers. The three other black passengers moved further back, but Rosa Parks refused. The driver called the police, and Rosa Parks was arrested.

Rosa Parks was charged her with violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code. She was taken to police headquarters, finger printed and released on bail. (The court  later found Rosa Parks guilty and fined her $10, plus $4 costs).. News of her arrest quickly reached local African American organizations including the NAACP and the WPC.

The Women’s Political Council (WPC) was established in Montgomery, Alabama in 1946 and had been planning for a citywide boycott of buses long before the incident involving Rosa Parks.

The WPC had reported abuses on the buses, protested that the city did not hire any black bus drivers and complained that bus stops in black neighborhoods were farther apart than in white neighborhoods, although blacks were 75% of the passengers. The Montgomery City Commission had ignored all complaints against the segregated bus system

Jo Ann Robinson, the leader of the WPC consulted with E.D. Nixon, the president of the NAACP, and, with the consent of Rosa Parks, agreed that it was the right time to launch the Montgomery bus boycott.

Handbills were quickly printed and distributed asking blacks to boycott the buses on the following Monday, December 5, in support of Rosa Parks.

By the night of Friday December 1, 1955, word of the boycott had spread all over the city. All black men, women and children stayed off the buses for the whole of Monday, December 5. Not one black person traveled on a Montgomery bus that day.

The one-day boycott was so successful that the organizers met on Monday night and decided to continue their protest. The Montgomery Improvement Association was established to organize the boycott and 26 year old Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was elected as its president.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was to last for just over a year, 381 days from December 5, 1955 to December 20th, 1956.

During this time the boycotters endured considerable hardship. 75% of the black population of Montgomery traveled by bus, Very few had cars, but those that did organized car pools to help each other. Black taxi drivers charged their black customers the same fee as a bus ride. There were so few taxis and pool cars that most had no potion but to walk to work during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Donations for the participants in the Montgomery Bus Boycott came in from across the country, including shoes to replace the worn-out footwear of those who walked for miles to work, college and school. Some people were assaulted on their walks, and the home of Reverend Martin Luther King was firebombed.

About two months after the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, civil rights activists sought case law to challenge the constitutional legitimacy of Montgomery and Alabama bus segregation laws. The Rosa Parks case was discounted fearing it would be tied up in the courts  of Alabama.

NAACP lawyers, Clifford Durr, Robert Carter and Thurgood Marshall, needed a way to get directly to federal courts. They brought a lawsuit on behalf of women who had been discriminated against by drivers enforcing segregation policy in the Montgomery bus system.

Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald and Mary Louise Smith agreed to be plaintiffs in a federal civil action lawsuit, thus bypassing the Alabama court system. The name of Aurelia Browder was alphabetically at the top of the list of plaintiffs so the case is known as Browder vs. Gayle.

The list of defendants included Mayor William A. Gayle (hence the name Browder vs. Gayle), Montgomery City Lines, two bus drivers, the city’s chief of police, Montgomery’s Board of Commissioners and representatives of the Alabama Public Service Commission

The legal case of Browder vs. Gayle challenged the constitutionality of a state statute and was brought before a three-judge U.S. District Court panel. On 5 June 1956, the three-judge panel ruled two-to-one that segregation on Alabama’s intrastate buses was unconstitutional, citing Brown vs Board of Education as precedent for the verdict.

Martin Luther King acknowledged the victory but called for a continuation of the Montgomery bus boycott until the ruling had been implemented.

City and state appeals were made to the Supreme Court but were rejected on December 17, 1956. Three days later, the order for integrated buses arrived in Montgomery.

On December 20, 1956 Martin Luther King, and the Montgomery Improvement Association, voted to end the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, and the Montgomery buses were integrated the following day.

Rosa Parks recalled that her refusal wasn't because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in.

Rosa Parks stand against racial discrimination sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and led to the establishment of the Civil Rights Movement.

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