1955-1956 – The Montgomery Bus Boycott
|Just a few months after Emmett Till’s murder, a 43-year-old civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, refuses to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and is arrested. Parks’ arrest inspires black leaders to mount a one-day bus boycott. With the help of Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council, 40,000 people are organized in just two days.
On the night of December 5, 1955, elated at the day’s success in emptying the buses, boycotters assemble at the Holt Street Baptist Church and vote to keep the protest going. A main speaker is a new minister in town, the 26-year-old Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Because he has no history with the town leaders, other ministers, including Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth, persuade King to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association and the boycott. King delivers an inspiring speech, saying, “If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.”
The boycott lasts until December 1956. Boycotters walk and rely on volunteer drivers in a carpool system to get where they need to go, and gain strength in nightly mass meetings. The bus company suffers economically; violence erupts; bombs are thrown at organizers’ homes; and the white Citizens Council and the Ku Klux Klan hold rallies. At last, a Supreme Court decision integrates the buses, and soon thousands of black riders are on the buses again — sitting where they please.
Project “C” in Birmingham | The March on Washington | Freedom Summer | The Civil Rights Act | March from Selma to Montgomery
Malcolm X and the Rise of Black Power | The Voting Rights Act | Poor People’s Campaign | King Assassination
Much of this text is excerpted, with permission, from the website for the American Experience series Eyes on the Prize. Read more about these events and others on that site.