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Montgomery Bus Boycott

MIA_bus_boycott-advertisement.gifOn December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus. The next day, the Women's Political Council (WPC), an association of black professionals who had previously attempted to bring concerns about the segregated bus system to the mayor and city council in Montgomery, called for a one-day bus boycott on December 5th.

Ninety percent of Montgomery's black population stayed off the buses on December 5th, and that afternoon a group of ministers and other community leaders met to discuss the possibility of turning the boycott into a longer-term campaign. At that meeting the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed and the recently arrived young minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was chosen as its president. That evening that young minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to a crowd of several thousand community members at a mass meeting, saying:

I want it to be known that we're going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong.... If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott continued for more than a year, despite hardships, harassment and violence against its leaders and supporters. In early 1956, Reverend King's house was firebombed while his wife and daughter were inside; fortunately, no one was injured. The home of another boycott leader, E.D. Nixon, was also bombed around this time.

Throughout 1956 a legal case that challenged the Alabama state statutes and Montgomery, Alabama, city ordinances requiring segregation on Montgomery buses made its way through the courts. On June 1, 1956 a three-judge U.S. District Court panel ruled two-to-one that segregation on Alabama's intrastate buses was unconstitutional, citing Brown v. Board of Education as precedent for the verdict. King applauded the victory but called for a continuation of the Montgomery bus boycott until the ruling was implemented. On November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's decision in Browder v. Gayle. On December 17, 1956, the Supreme Court rejected state and city appeals that they reconsider their decision. A few days later the order for an integrated bus system arrived in Montgomery and the Montgomery Improvement Association voted to end the boycott.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott launched Dr. Martin Luther King to national attention. The important victory in Montgomery inspired boycotts in Tallahassee, Florida and Birmingham, Alabama. Early in 1957 King and other black ministers formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to promote civil rights.

Learn more about both Dr. King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott at your Milwaukee Public Library.

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