Editor’s Note: Rosa Parks died October 25 at the age of 92, a quiet woman whose refusal to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, helped change the course of history. She is not identified by name in this editorial from the December 24, 1955, edition of The Nation. But her quiet purposefulness, along with the thousands of others who participated in the Montgomery bus boycott, bears eloquent witness to the power of the protest.
The “economic pressure” that is the stock in trade of the White Citizens Councils can be a two-way squeeze–especially in those sectors of the South where Negroes, by their labor and by their spending, provide so much of the economy’s life-blood. However menial their jobs, however small their individual purchasing power, if all the Negroes of a Deep South town or county were to stay home for even one day, that area would be paralyzed.
In Montgomery, Alabama, recently an impressive demonstration of this latest strength occurred when the Negro community–some 40,000 strong–declared a boycott against the city bus lines. The incident provoking the ban was the arrest of a seamstress who refused to give up her seat at the order of a driver. The driver testified that he had twenty-two Negro passengers and fourteen whites in his thirty-six-seat bus, and he ordered the woman and others to move back to “equalize” the seating.
Such incidents have been all too frequent in “the Cradle of the Confederacy”: last summer a fourteen-year-old Negro girl was dragged off a bus by three policemen and taken in handcuffs to jail because of a refusal to relinquish her place to a white man. A bus driver left his vehicle to beat up a mentally deficient Negro who had “bothered” him from the sidewalk. Drivers have been said to carry guns in their cash boxes to “settle” disputes about transfers and change-making. Because of the stored-up resentment these caused, no organization or leader can be said to have inspired the boycott. ”The leaders were led,” said one Negro minister. “It was a vertical thing, sweeping through all our people. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen, and the most heartening.”
On the first day of-the boycott, December 5, motorcycle police escorted buses on their routes and patrolmen were stationed at major stops. But the buses rolled along, as empty as husks, while long lines of Negro workers trudged with quiet purposefulness to their jobs. Parents formed car pools to get their children to school. The Negro taxicab companies offered a special rate of a dime a person to any place in the city. Bus-line officials admitted that the boycott was 95 per cent effective.
That same day, the arrested woman was convicted and fined $14. Her attorneys announced their intention to appeal the verdict with a clear view toward getting a federal ruling on the constitutionality of segregation in intrastate transportation. That night 5,000 Negroes overflowed the auditorium and lawn of a church and voted to continue the boycott until the bus line agreed to halt the “intimidation, embarrassment and coercion” of Negro patrons.
This dramatic display of unity may well inspire the Negro residents of other Southern cities to similar action. But whether it does or not, most observers agree that it has severely discouraged the White Citizens Council’s recruiting drive in Montgomery.