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The Montgomery Bus Boycott Essay, Research Paper
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery bus boycott changed the way people lived and reacted to
each other. The American civil rights movement began a long time ago, as early
as the seventeenth century, with blacks and whites all protesting slavery
together. The peak of the civil rights movement came in the 1950’s starting
with the successful bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama. The civil rights
movement was lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolence and
love for your enemy.
“Love your enemies, we do not mean to love them as a friend or intimate. We
mean what the Greeks called agape-a disinterested love for all mankind. This
love is our regulating ideal and beloved community our ultimate goal. As we
struggle here in Montgomery, we are cognizant that we have cosmic companionship
and that the universe bends toward justice. We are moving from the black night
of segregation to the bright daybreak of joy, from the midnight of Egyptian
captivity to the glittering light of Canaan freedom”
explained Dr. King.
In the Cradle of the Confederacy, life for the white and the colored
citizens was completely segregated. Segregated schools, restaurants, public
water fountains, amusement parks, and city buses were part of everyday life in
?Every person operating a bus line should provide equal
accommodations…in such a manner as to separate the white people from Negroes.”
On Montgomery’s buses, black passengers were required by city law to sit in the
back of the segregated bus. Negroes were required to pay their fare at the
front of the bus, then get off and reboard from the rear of the bus. The front
row seats were reserved for white people, which left the back of the bus or no
man’s land for the black’s. There was no sign declaring the seating
arrangements of the buses, but everyone knew them.
The Montgomery bus boycott started one of the greatest fights for civil
rights in the history of America. Here in the old capital of the Confederacy, ?
inspired by one women’s courage; mobilized and organized by scores of grass-
roots leaders in churches, community organizations, and political clubs; called
to new visions of their best possibilities by a young black preacher named
Martin Luther King, Jr., a people was reawakening to its destiny. ?
In 1953, the black community of Baton Rouge, Louisiana successfully
petitioned their city council to end segregated seating on public buses. The
new ordinance allowed the city buses to be seated on a first-come, first-served
basis, with the blacks still beginning their seating at the rear of the bus.
The bus drivers, who were all white, ignored the new ordinance and continued to
save seats in front of the bus for white passengers. In an effort to demand
that the city follow the new ordinance, the black community staged a one-day
boycott of Baton Rouge’s buses. By the end of the day, Louisiana’s attorney
general decided that the new ordinance was illegal and ruled that the bus
drivers did not have to change the seating arrangements on the buses.
Three months later a second bus boycott was started by Reverend T.J.
Jemison. The new boycott lasted about one week, and yet it forced the city
officials to compromise. The compromise was to change the seating on the buses
to first-come, first-served seating with two side seats up front reserved for
whites, and one long seat in the back for the blacks.
The bus boycott in Baton Rouge was one of the first times a community of
blacks had organized direct action against segregation and won. The victory in
Baton Rouge was a small one in comparison to other civil right battles and
victories. The hard work of Reverend Jemison and other organizers of the
boycott, had far reaching implications on a movement that was just starting to
take root in America. In 1954 the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education
of Topeka descion by the Supreme Court overshadowed Baton Rouge, but the ideas
and lessons were not forgotten. They were soon used 400 miles away in
Montgomery, Alabama, where the most important boycott of the civil rights
movement was about to begin.
The idea of separate but equal started in 1896 with a case called Plessy
v. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537 (1896). On June 2, 1896 Homer Adolph Plessy, who was
one-eighth Negro and appeared to be white, boarded and took a vacant seat in a
coach reserved for white people on the East Louisiana railroad in New Orleans
bound for Covington, Louisiana. The conductor ordered Plessy to move to a coach
reserved for colored people, but Plessy refused. With the aid of a police
officer , Plessy was forcibly ejected from the train, locked up in the New
Orleans jail, and was taken before Judge Ferguson on the charge of violating
Louisiana’s state segregation laws. In affirming Plessy’s conviction, the
Supreme Court of Louisiana upheld the state law. Plessy then took the case to
the Supreme Court of America on a writ of error ( an older form of appeal that
was abolished in 1929) saying that Louisiana’s segregation law was ?
?unconstitutional as a denial of the Thirteenth Amendment and equal protection
clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. ? The Plessy v. Ferguson case descion
stated that separate but equal was fine as long as the accommodations were equal
Case after case the ?separate but equal ? doctrine was followed but not
reexamined. The equal part of the doctrine had no real meaning, because the
Supreme Court refused to look beyond any lower court holdings to find if the
segregated facilities for Negroes were equal to those for whites. Many Negro
accommodations were said to be equal when in fact they were definitely inferior.
The separate but equal doctrine ?is one of the outstanding myths of American
history for it is almost always true that while indeed separate, these
facilities are far from equal. Throughout the segregated public institutions,
Negroes have been denied equal share of tax supported service and facilities ?
stated President Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights in 1947.
In Topeka, Kansas the Brown’s, a Negro family, lived only four blacks
from the white Sumner Elementary School. Linda Carol Brown, an eight year old
girl had to attend a segregated school twenty-one blocks from her home because
Kansas’s state segregation laws allowed cities to segregate Negro and white
students in public elementary schools.
Oliver Brown and twelve other parents of Negro children asked that their
children be admitted to the all-white Sumner School, which was much closer to
home. The principle refused them admission, and the parents filed a suit in a
federal district court against the Topeka Board of Education. The suit
contended that the refusal to admit the children to the school was a denial of
the ?equal protection clause ? of the Fourteenth Amendment. The descion of
the principle lead to the birth of the most influential and important case of
the Twentieth Century, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
The federal district court was sympathetic to the Negro cause and agreed
that segregation in public schools had a negative effect on Negro children, but
the court felt binded by the descion in Plessy v. Ferguson, and refused to
declare segregation unconstitutional. Mr. Brown then took the case directly to
the Supreme Court of the United States.
Other cases involving school segregation were making there way to the
Supreme Court from three different states-Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina-and
the District of Columbia. All of the cases arrived around the same time as the
Brown case. The cases all raised the same issue, and the state consolidated
them under Brown v. Board of Education. The equal protection clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment is a restriction that applies only to the states, so the
case from the District of Columbia was ?rested on the due process clause of the
Fifth Amendment which is applicable to the Federal government ?. The case was
called Bolling v. Sharpe, 349 U.S. 294 (1955), and had the same outcome as the
In front of the Supreme Court the arguments against segregation were
presented by Thurgood Marshall, council for the National Association for the
Advancement for Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP is an organization which had
directed five cases through the courts and which had won many legal cases for
American Negroes. The states relied on primarily Plessy v. Ferguson in arguing
for the continuation of segregation in public schools.
The Supreme Court Opinion statement delivered by Mr. Chief Justice
Warren stated that
?We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ?
separate but equal? has no place. Separate educational facilities are
inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others of the
similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the
segregation complained, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed
by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion
whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
The Brown case was necessary in clearing the way towards full equality
for the Negroes in America. Though the Brown case did not directly overturn the
Plessy case descion, it made it perfectly clear that segregation in areas other
than public education could not continue. The Brown case enabled Negroes to
fight peacefully for their freedom through sit-ins, demonstrations, boycotts,
and the exercise of their voting rights. With the Brown case descion and the
end of school segregation came the start of the fall of white supremacy.
On December 1, 1955, the action of Mrs. Rosa Parks gave rise to a form
of protest that lead the civil rights movement-nonviolent action. Mrs. Parks
worked at a Montgomery department store pinning up hems, raising waistlines.
When the store closed, Mrs. Parks boarded a Cleveland Avenue bus, and took a
seat behind the white section in row eleven. The bus was half full when Rosa
Parks boarded, but soon was filled leaving a white man standing.
?Y’all better make it light on yourself and let me have those seats,?
said the bus driver James Blake as he ordered the black passengers in row eleven
to move. Everyone except Mrs. Parks moved to the rear of the bus. ?When he saw
me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No I’m not.’?
recalled Mrs. Rosa Parks. James Blake replied ?Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m
going to call the police and have you arrested,? with Rosa Parks bravely
replaying ?You may do that.? Mrs. Rosa Parks was arrested for violating the
Municipal code separating the races in Montgomery, Alabama.
Rosa Parks was taken to the city jail in a police car where she was
booked for ?violating the law banning integration ?. At the police station she
longed for a drink of water to soothe her dry throat, ?but they wouldn’t permit
me to drink out of the water fountain, it was for whites only. ? Rosa Parks
was convicted and fined ten dollars plus four dollars in court cost.
The arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 was not the first time Mrs. Parks had
challenged the Jim Crow laws of the South. In 1943, the same bus driver who
arrested her in 1955, James Blake threw her off the bus for violating the
segregation laws. During the 1940’s the quiet, dignified older lady refused on
several different occasions to submit to segregation laws.
?My resistance to being mistreated on the buses and anywhere else was
just a regular thing with me and not just that day ?stated Rosa after she was
arrested. Mrs. Parks was an active member in organizations that fought for the
equality of races. She was the first secretary for the Alabama State Conference
of NAACP Branches, and she helped organize an NAACP Youth Council chapter in
News of Mrs. Parks arrest soon reached E.D. Nixon, the man who headed
the NAACP when Mrs. Parks was its secretary. Nixon tried to call one of the
cities two black lawyers, Fred Gray, but Gray was not at home, so Mr. Nixon
called Clifford Durr. Clifford Durr was member of the Federal Communications
Commission, and had recently returned to Montgomery from Washington DC.
?About six o’ clock that night the telephone rang, and Mr. Nixon said
that he understood that Mrs. Parks was arrested, and he had called the jail, but
they wouldn’t tell him why she had been arrested. So they thought that if Cliff
called, a white lawyer, they might tell him. Cliff called, and they said she’s
been arrested under the segregation laws…so Mr. Nixon raised the bond and
signed the paper and got Mrs. Parks out, ? recalled Virginia Durr.
?Mrs. Parks, with your permission we can break down segregation on the
bus with your case, ?E.D. Nixon asked Rosa Parks. Parks consulted her mother
and husband, and deiced to let Mr. Nixon make her case into a cause, stating ?I’
ll go along with you Mr. Nixon. ?
Nixon, at home was making a list of black ministers in Montgomery, who
would help support their boycott. Lacking the influence he once had in the
NAACP, because of his background, Nixon deiced that the church would be better
to go through to reach people, ?because they(the church) had their hands on the
masses. ? Progressive minister, Reverend Ralph Abernnathy, who E.D. Nixon knew
through his work at the NAACP would be the first to receive the call to mobilize
At five A.M. Friday morning, the next day, Nixon called Rev. Abernathy,
who knew most of the other minister and black leaders in Montgomery. After
discussing the situation Nixon called eighteen other ministers and arranged a
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