The Montgomery Bus Boycott ran from December 5, 1955 until December 20, 1956. It is considered the starting point of the fight against desegregation and the first large demonstration against segregation in the United States.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to yield her bus seat as required by the segregation laws of the time to a white man who had boarded the bus. Blacks sat in the back “Colored” section. If they sat in back and the white section was filled, they had to move for a white and stand.
A boycott was organized on the day Rosa Parks stood before the judge and was fined $10 for violating the law and $4 in court fees.
Rosa Parks is portrayed in many historical biopics as simply a woman who wouldn’t move to the back of the bus, and a movement coalesced around her. However, she was actually active in the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was actually a secretary for the NAACP for a time. This is why the Women’s Political Council was ready and willing to organize a boycott on her behalf.
An estimated 40,000 or 80% of black bus riders at the time joined the boycott in the first week. The boycott was devastating to bus companies, since blacks represented at least three quarters of bus riders at the time. Initial demands were for courtesy, first come first serve seating and the hiring of black drivers by bus companies.
Black leaders organized taxi riders that charged the same fare as the bus so that people could continue to get to work, charging the same ten cent fare as the bus. Others chose to walk several miles instead.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days, when the Supreme Court ruled in the NAACP’s favor.
Impact on History
The Rosa Parks case grew into a greater legal challenge when Fred D. Gray and the NAACP sued the city of Montgomery to have bus segregation laws declared illegal.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was lead by pastor Martin Luther King Jr. who later became a leading figure in the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference shortly after the boycott. He retained this role until his murder in 1968.
Impact on Society
On June 5, 1956, the federal court in Montgomery rules that racial segregation on buses violated the 14th Amendment. The city of Montgomery appealed the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to integrate its bus system on December 20, 1956.
Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus. However, the civil rights movement and NAACP did not intervene in cases like that of fifteen year old Claudette Colvin because they wanted a respectable public case to bring forward. Claudette Colvin was arrested nine months before Rosa Parks for the same act of resisting bus segregation. However, since she was young and pregnant out of wedlock, they didn’t want someone considered disreputable to be the face of their movement. The case of eighteen year old Mary Louise Smith was rejected by the NAACP for the same reason, not wanting to rally behind individuals whose actions could be portrayed as teenaged rebellion. Middle aged, hardworking seamstress Rosa Parks better suited the image they wanted to portray and thus the focal point.
Another footnote was the fact that many business owners didn’t like segregation laws. Regardless of the racial biases of their owners, setting up colored only seating areas, separate bathrooms and so forth were an added cost and inconvenience. This is why segregation laws existed in the first place – because most business owners wouldn’t have implemented them without the legal requirements to do so.