“You will only be remembered for two things: the problems you solve, or the ones you create.”- Mike Murdock.
This time around, someone helped reverse the curse of racism and segregation by refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white man and was subsequently arrested. This sparked an action that generations later are still benefitting from.
Sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks, a seamstress, on 1 December 1955, when African Americans were still required by a Montgomery, Alabama, city ordinance to sit in the back half of city buses and to yield their seats to white riders if the front half of the bus, reserved for whites, was full.
But on that fateful day, Rosa Parks was commuting home on Montgomery’s Cleveland Avenue bus from her job at a local department store. She was seated in the front row of the “coloured section.” When the white seats filled, the driver, J. Fred Blake, asked Parks and three others to vacate their seats. The other Black riders complied, but Parks refused. She was arrested and fined $10, plus $4 in court fees. This was not Parks’ first encounter with Blake.
In 1943, she had paid her fare at the front of a bus he was driving, then exited so she could re-enter through the back door, as required. Blake pulled away before she could re-board the bus.
The Montgomery bus boycott after this act was a 13-month mass protest that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) coordinated the boycott, and its president, Martin Luther King, Jr., became a prominent civil rights leader as international attention focused on Montgomery.
The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for a non-violent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed. In Stride Toward Freedom, King’s 1958 memoir of the boycott, he declared the real meaning of the Montgomery bus boycott to be the power of growing self-respect to animate the struggle for civil rights.
As news of the boycott spread, African American leaders across Montgomery (Alabama’s capital city) began lending their support. Black ministers announced the boycott in church on Sunday, December 4, and the Montgomery Advertiser, a general-interest newspaper, published a front-page article on the planned action.
Approximately 40,000 Black bus riders—the majority of the city’s bus riders—boycotted the system the next day, December 5. That afternoon, Black leaders met to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The group elected Martin Luther King Jr., the 26-year-old-pastor of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as its president, and decided to continue the boycott until the city met its demands.
Initially, the demands did not include changing the segregation laws; rather, the group demanded courtesy, the hiring of Black drivers, and a first-come, first-seated policy, with whites entering and filling seats from the front and African Americans from the rear. Many Black residents chose simply to walk to work or other destinations. Black leaders organized regular mass meetings to keep African American residents mobilized around the boycott.
On June 5, 1956, a Montgomery federal court ruled that any law requiring racially segregated seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment, adopted in 1868 following the U.S. Civil War, guarantees all citizens—regardless of race—equal rights and equal protection under state and federal laws. The city appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s decision on December 20, 1956. Montgomery’s buses were integrated on December 21, 1956, and the boycott ended. It lasted 381 days.
This shows the power of even a single action, especially one towards good.
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