Archive for December, 2006

Montgomery Bus Boycott 51 years Ago!

Rosa being ArrestedMontgomery Bus 1955
Rosa Parks Being Arrested & The Bus Rosa Parks Refused Give to up her seat on.

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December 5th is the 51 year anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

This of course fits in beautifully with our mission to discuss and define civil rights. Here is an article form Wikipedia giving you all the particulars.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama intended to oppose the city’s policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. The struggle lasted from December 5, 1955 to December 21, 1956 and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional.
The protest was triggered by the arrest of African American seamstress Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955. She was charged for violating racial segregation laws in Montgomery, Alabama after refusing to give her seat on a bus to a white man.
Rosa Parks

Main article: Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks was a seamstress by profession and she was also educated. Shortly before her arrest in December 1955, she had completed a course in “Race Relations” at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Rosa Parks was also secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. The boycott was planned before Rosa Parks’s arrest. Her arrest was a test case which allowed them to challenge segregation on public buses. Community leaders had been waiting for the right person to be arrested, a person who would anger the black community into action, who would agree to test the segregation laws in court, and who, most importantly, was “above reproach.” When fifteen year old Claudette Colvin was arrested early in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat, E.D. Nixon of the NAACP thought he had found the perfect person, but Colvin turned out to be pregnant. Nixon later explained, “I had to be sure that I had somebody I could win with.” Enter Rosa Parks. She was arrested on Thursday, December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. When found guilty on Monday, December 5, 1955, she was fined $10 plus a court cost of $4, but she appealed. Rosa Parks also helped and supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks is now considered one of the pioneering women of the civil rights movement.

On Friday, December 2, 1955, Jo Ann Robinson (president of the Women’s Political Council) would receive a call from Fred Gray, one of the city’s two black lawyers, informing her that Rosa Parks had been arrested. That entire night Robinson worked tirelessly mimeographing over 35,000 handbills reading:
“Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights, too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negroes, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday.” [1]
The next morning at a church meeting with the new minister in the city, Martin Luther King, Jr., a citywide boycott of public transit was called as a protest for a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses was proposed and passed.
The demands of the boycotters included courteous treatment by bus operators, first-come, first-served seating, and employment of African American bus drivers.
Thus, despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the boycotters were initially willing to accept a compromise that was consistent with separate but equal rather than complete integration. In this respect, they followed the pattern of earlier boycott campaigns in the Deep South during the 1950s. A prime example was the successful boycott of service stations in Mississippi for refusing to provide restrooms for blacks. The organizer of that campaign, T.R.M. Howard of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, had spoken in Montgomery as King’s guest at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church only days before Parks’ arrest.
The boycott proved extremely effective, with enough riders lost to the city transit system to cause serious economic distress. Martin Luther King later wrote “A miracle had taken place.” Instead of riding buses, boycotters organized a system of carpools, with car owners volunteering their vehicles or themselves driving people to various destinations. Some white housewives also drove their black domestic servants to work, although it is unclear to what extent this was based on sympathy with the boycott, versus the simple desire to have their staff present and working.[2] When the city pressured local insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in the carpools, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyd’s of London.
Black taxi drivers charged ten cents per ride, a fare equal to the cost to ride the bus, in support of the boycott. When word of this reached city officials on December 8, 1955, the order went out to fine any cab driver who charged a rider less than 45 cents. In addition to using private motor vehicles, some people used non-motorized means to get around, such as bicycling, walking, or even riding mules or driving horse-drawn buggies. Some people also raised their thumbs to hitchhike around. During rush hours, sidewalks were often crowded. As the buses received extremely few, if any, passengers, their officials asked the City Commission to allow stopping service to black communities[1]. Across the nation, black churches raised money to support the boycott and collected new and slightly used shoes to replace the tattered footwear of Montgomery’s black citizens, many of whom walked everywhere rather than ride the buses and submit to Jim Crow laws.
In response, opposing whites swelled the ranks of the White Citizens’ Council, the membership of which doubled during the course of the boycott. Like the Ku Klux Klan, the Councils sometimes resorted to violence: Martin Luther King’s and Ralph Abernathy’s houses were firebombed, as were four Baptist churches. Boycotters were often physically attacked.
Under a 1921 ordinance, 156 protesters were arrested for “hindering” a bus, including King. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine or serve 386 days in jail. The move backfired by bringing national attention to the protest. However, King commented on the arrest by saying: “I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice” [3]

Pressure increased across the country and on June 4, 1956 the federal district court ruled that Alabama’s racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional (Browder v. Gayle). However, an appeal kept the segregation intact and the boycott continued until, finally, on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling. This victory led to a city ordinance that allowed black bus passengers to sit virtually anywhere they wanted and the boycott officially ended December 21, 1956. Martin Luther King capped off the victory with a magnanimous speech to encourage acceptance of the decision.The boycott resulted in the U.S. civil rights movement receiving one of its first victories, and gave Martin Luther King the national attention that would make him one of the prime leaders of the cause.