Montgomery Bus Boycott
Before 1955, all across the South, segregation between blacks and whites occurred throughout every area of society. Restaurants, water fountains, restrooms and schools were separate. On buses and trains, blacks had to sit at the back of the vehicle.
The Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896 in the Supreme Court had determined that segregation was constitutional as long as the facilities were equal. In 1900, the city of Montgomery, Alabama, passed an ordinance saying that buses would provide separate but equal spaces for blacks and whites. Bus drivers had the freedom to be like a policeman on the bus and decide the rules. They could make blacks move back if more white people got on the bus.
Rosa Parks lived in Montgomery, Alabama. She rode the bus to and from her work at a department store in the city. She had to sit in the back because she was black. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks got on the bus and sat in the row closest to the front for blacks to sit. When all the white rows were filled, and another white person entered the bus, the driver told Rosa to move back. She was tired of being told to do that so refused. She was arrested and fined ten dollars.
Others had been arrested before for similar refusals, but at this time, people in Montgomery wanted to do something about the situation. They wanted to organize a protest. Civil rights leaders and ministers in the city decided to have a boycott of the buses. That meant that for one day no black persons would ride the buses. They decided to do this on December 5. The organizers of the boycott made up leaflets and passed them out so people would join in the boycott. On December 5, 90 percent of the black people of the city did not ride the buses.
The leaders formed a group called the Montgomery Improvement Association. The group met in Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s church. He was chosen to lead the group. After the success of the first day, the group voted to continue the boycott. Rev. King gave a speech, saying, 'If we are wrong, the Supreme Court is wrong, the Constitution is wrong, God Almighty is wrong.'
Black people were able to find ways to get to work without riding buses. Some walked, shared car rides and used horse-drawn vehicles. Black taxi drivers lowered their rates to equal the cost of bus fare. Some white people were unhappy with the loss of business. Local car insurance companies said they wouldn't insure those who gave rides to the people who participated in the boycott. Taxi drivers had to charge at least forty-five cents a ride or pay a fine. Leaders were arrested for trying to interfere with a business. Rev. Martin Luther, Jr. paid a 500-dollar fine and stayed in jail for two weeks.
Although some of the white people became violent, Rev. King remained strong on his decision that they remain peaceful. His house was firebombed. Several black churches were hit also. White citizens attacked blacks who walked. Rev. King told all the blacks, 'We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us.'
This incident brought the whole issue of segregation to the eyes of all America. After a lawsuit was filed saying that the racial segregation laws were unconstitutional, on June 4, 1956, the local courts agreed. However, the Supreme Court of the United States delayed making a decision on this case. They issued their decision on November 13, 1956. The blacks boycotted the buses until December 20, 1956. After that time, blacks could sit anywhere on the buses they chose. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the civil rights leader of the country.
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