On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old African-American seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white man. With that simple act of rebellion, the modern civil rights movement was born.
In the 1950s, the majority of bus riders in Montgomery were black, but city regulations required that they not only sit in the rear of buses, but also had to surrender their seats to a white person when all the seats in front were filled. When Parks balked at leaving her seat, she was arrested and jailed.
Parks wasn't the first person to protest the laws, but her arrest galvanized Montgomery's black community. A one-day protest was planned. Then word of the action found its way to several leaders in the black community, including the 27-yearold pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King. On December 2, a meeting was held of community activists. The group decided to organize a boycott of the city bus service until the city ended Jim Crow rules on its buses. To organize the community, the group formed the Montgomery Improvement Association with King as its leader.
On December 5, the boycott began. That morning, Montgomery's citizens were treated to an incredible sight. While the city buses were nearly empty, sidewalks were crowded with blacks walking to work. Others carpooled or took cabs, with black cab drivers lowering their fares in support of the boycotters. The city recognized immediately it had a huge problem on its hands. Not only was it facing staggering financial losses, it also saw for the first time that a politically unified black community could spell doom for segregation. The city could have negotiated with the boycott leaders (not all cities in the South had segregated bus service), but Mayor "Tacky" Gayle instead chose to intimidate the boycotters in an effort to force them back onto the buses. Cab fares were raised. Carpooling was made illegal. Leaders, including King, were arrested. King's home was also firebombed. Nothing, however, could break the will of the black community, whose determination was soon being admired around the world.
The Nation's Carey McWilliams called the boycott the "Miracle in Alabama," and it was. For 381 days, despite brutal harassment, and no protection from the state or federal government, the boycott endured. When it finally ended on December 27, 1956, not only was it a complete victory for the black community, but the civil rights movement had a new leader in King and a momentum that over the next ten years would destroy nearly every vestige of Jim Crow that had plagued the South and the nation since the Civil War.
In This Pack
Race Justice in Aiken
George McMillan | The author examines the roots of the boycott (November 23, 1946).
Justice in Sumner: Land of the Free
Dan Wakefield | This firsthand account of the atmosphere surrounding the Emmet Till murder trial provides excellent context for understanding the courage of Montgomery's citizens (October 1, 1955).
Respectable Racism: Dixie's Citizens Councils
Dan Wakefield | The story of how so-called "respectable" folks enforce the brutal rules of segregation in the South (October 22, 1955).
The Two-Way Squeeze
The black citizens of Montgomery have adopted with great success the boycott tactics of the White Citizens Councils (December 24, 1955).
The Montgomery Boycott
A report on the Montgomery city government's efforts to undermine the boycott (February 11, 1956).
Monster Rally at Montgomery
Senator James Eastland leads an attack on integrationists (February 18, 1956).
Montgomery Boycott: New Phase
The Nation reports that the Montgomery government has turned to the courts in an attempt to force an end to the boycott (February 25, 1956).
Miracle in Alabama
Carey McWilliams | Despite attempts to intimidate them, the Montgomery boycotters have energized and unified the city's African-American community (March 3, 1956).
"We Will All Stand Together"
The indicted boycott leaders, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, refuse to back down (March 3, 1956).
Is Your Brand "Pure White"?
J.J. Seldin | The White Citizen Councils apply economic pressures of their own against companies doing business in the South (April 28, 1956).
The Bill of Rights 1791-1956
The Nation calls the boycott the year's most important civil rights development (December 15, 1956).
Wilma Dykeman and James Stokely | It's a new dawn in Montgomery as the city comes to grips with the boycotters' victory over segregation (July 6, 1957).
Civil Rights Can Win
Despite the victory in Montgomery, Congress is slow to move on civil rights legislation (July 6, 1957).