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The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery bus boycott changed the way people lived and reacted to
each other. The American civil rights movement began a long time ago, as early
as the seventeenth century, with blacks and whites all protesting slavery
together. The peak of the civil rights movement came in the 1950's starting
with the successful bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama. The civil rights
movement was lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolence and
love for your enemy.
"Love your enemies, we do not mean to love them as a friend or intimate. We
mean what the Greeks called agape-a disinterested love for all mankind. This
love is our regulating ideal and beloved community our ultimate goal. As we
struggle here in Montgomery, we are cognizant that we have cosmic companionship
and that the universe bends toward justice. We are moving from the black night
of segregation to the bright daybreak of joy, from the midnight of Egyptian
captivity to the glittering light of Canaan freedom"
explained Dr. King.
In the Cradle of the Confederacy, life for the white and the colored
citizens was completely segregated. Segregated schools, restaurants, public
water fountains, amusement parks, and city buses were part of everyday life in
Every person operating a bus line should provide equal
accommodations...in such a manner as to separate the white people from Negroes."
On Montgomery's buses, black passengers were required by city law to sit in the
back of the segregated bus. Negroes were required to pay their fare at the
front of the bus, then get off and reboard from the rear of the bus. The front
row seats were reserved for white people, which left the back of the bus or no
man's land for the black's. There was no sign declaring the seating
arrangements of the buses, but everyone knew them.
The Montgomery bus boycott started one of the greatest fights for civil
rights in the history of America. Here in the old capital of the Confederacy,
inspired by one women's courage; mobilized and organized by scores of grass-
roots leaders in churches, community organizations, and political clubs; called
to new visions of their best possibilities by a young black preacher named
Martin Luther King, Jr., a people was reawakening to its destiny.
In 1953, the black community of Baton Rouge, Louisiana successfully
petitioned their city council to end segregated seating on public buses. The
new ordinance allowed the city buses to be seated on a first-come, first-served
basis, with the blacks still beginning their seating at the rear of the bus.
The bus drivers, who were all white, ignored the new ordinance and continued to
save seats in front of the bus for white passengers. In an effort to demand
that the city follow the new ordinance, the black community staged a one-day
boycott of Baton Rouge's buses. By the end of the day, Louisiana's attorney
general decided that the new ordinance was illegal and ruled that the bus
drivers did not have to change the seating arrangements on the buses.
Three months later a second bus boycott was started by Reverend T.J.
Jemison. The new boycott lasted about one week, and yet it forced the city
officials to compromise. The compromise was to change the seating on the buses
to first-come, first-served seating with two side seats up front reserved for
whites, and one long seat in the back for the blacks.
The bus boycott in Baton Rouge was one of the first times a community of
blacks had organized direct action against segregation and won. The victory in
Baton Rouge was a small one in comparison to other civil right battles and
victories. The hard work of Reverend Jemison and other organizers of the
boycott, had far reaching implications on a movement that was just starting to
take root in America. In 1954 the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education
of Topeka descion by the Supreme Court overshadowed Baton Rouge, but the ideas
and lessons were not forgotten. They were soon used 400 miles away in
Montgomery, Alabama, where the most important boycott of the civil rights
movement was about to begin.
The idea of separate but equal started in 1896 with a case called Plessy
v. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537 (1896). On June 2, 1896 Homer Adolph Plessy, who was
one-eighth Negro and appeared to be white, boarded and took a vacant seat in a
coach reserved for white people on the East Louisiana railroad in New Orleans
bound for ... more