Please attend 'Daily Jobs Protest' in honor of the 'Montgomery Bus Boycott's' anniversary.
Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 4:30pm
Corner of West Market and Springfield Avenue, Newark.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott, a seminal episode in the U.S. civil rights movement, was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. The campaign lasted from December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks, an African American woman, was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white person, to December 20, 1956, when a federal ruling, Browder v. Gayle, took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional. Many important figures in the civil rights movement took part in the boycott, including Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy. Under the system of segregation used on Montgomery buses, white people who boarded the bus took seats in the front rows, filling the bus toward the back. Black people who boarded the bus took seats in the back rows, filling the bus toward the front. Eventually, the two sections would meet, and the bus would be full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand, so that a new row for white people could be created. Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and reenter the bus through a separate door at the back. On some occasions bus drivers would drive away before black passengers were able to reboard. National City Lines owned the Montgomery Bus Line at the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 October 24, 2005) was a seamstress by profession; she was also the secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. Twelve years before her history-making arrest, Parks was stopped from boarding a city bus by driver James F. Blake, who ordered her to board at the back door and then drove off without her. Parks vowed never again to ride a bus driven by Blake. As a member of the NAACP, Parks was an investigator assigned to cases of sexual assault. In 1945, she was sent to Abbeville, Alabama, to investigate the gang rape of Recy Taylor. The protest that arose around the Taylor case was the first instance of a nationwide civil rights protest, and it laid the groundwork for the Montgomery bus boycott. 
In 1955, Parks completed a course in "Race Relations" at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee where non-violent civil disobedience had been discussed as a tactic. On December 1, 1955, Parks was sitting in the frontmost row for black people. When a Caucasian man boarded the bus, the bus driver told everyone in her row to move back. At that moment, Parks realized that she was again on a bus driven by Blake. While all of the other black people in her row complied, Parks refused, and was arrested for failing to obey the driver's seat assignments, as city ordinances did not explicitly mandate segregation but did give the bus driver authority to assign seats. Found guilty on December 5, Parks was fined $10 plus a court cost of $4, but she appealed.
"Another 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 Negro, 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."
The next morning at a church meeting led by the new MIA head, King, a citywide boycott of public transit was proposed to demand a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses. Such a line would have meant that if the white section of the bus was oversubscribed, whites would have to stand; blacks would not be forced to remit their seats to whites.
This demand was a compromise for the leaders of the boycott, who believed that the city of Montgomery would be more likely to accept it rather than a demand for a full integration of the buses. In this respect, the MIA leaders followed the pattern of 1950s boycott campaigns in the Deep South, including the successful boycott a few years earlier 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 on the brutal slaying of Emmett Till as King's guest at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church only four days before Parks's arrest. Parks was in the audience and later said that Emmett Till was on her mind when she refused to give up her seat.
The MIA's demand for a fixed dividing line was to be supplemented by a requirement that all bus passengers receive courteous treatment by bus operators, be seated on a first-come, first-served basis, and blacks be employed as bus drivers. The proposal was passed, and the boycott was to commence the following Monday. To publicize the impending boycott it was advertised at black churches throughout Montgomery the following Sunday.
On Saturday, December 3, it was evident that the black community would support the boycott, and very few blacks rode the buses that day. That night a mass meeting was held to determine if the protest would continue, and attendees enthusiastically agreed. 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. 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, 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 cycling, walking, or even riding mules or driving horse-drawn buggies. Some people also hitchhiked. During rush hours, sidewalks were often crowded. As the buses received few, if any, passengers, their officials asked the City Commission to allow stopping service to black communities. 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. The councils sometimes resorted to violence: King's and Abernathy's houses were firebombed, as were four black Baptist churches. Boycotters were often physically attacked.
King and 89 other boycott leaders and carpool drivers were indicted for conspiring to interfere with a business under a 1921 ordinance. Rather than wait to be arrested, they boldly turned themselves in as an act of defiance.
King was ordered to pay a $500 fine or serve 386 days in jail. He ended up spending two weeks in jail. The move backfired by bringing national attention to the protest. 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."
Also important during the bus boycott were the grass-roots activist groups which helped to catalyze both fund-raising and morale. Groups such as the Club from Nowhere helped to sustain the boycott by finding new ways of raising money and offering support to boycott participants. Many members of these organizations were women and their contributions to the effort have been described by some as essential to the success of the bus boycott.
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. However, an appeal kept the segregation intact, and the boycott continued. On November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the district court's ruling, leading to a city ordinance that allowed black bus passengers to sit virtually anywhere they wanted. The boycott officially ended December 20, 1956, after 381 days. The Montgomery Bus Boycott resounded far beyond the desegregation of public buses; it stimulated the national civil rights movement and launched King into the national spotlight as a leader.
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