dec 1, 1955 - Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks was E.D. Nixon’s (The Montgomery community leader) secretary in the NAACP for over 12 years- and she worked with him when he was the NAACP’s state president. Parks refused to give a white man her communal bus seat, even when the bus driver asked- and thus she was apprehended by the police. She asked the policeman handcuffing her, ‘Why do you push us around?’ to which he replied ‘I do not know but the law is the law, and you’re under arrest.’ This wasn’t a Black citizen's first time to refuse to give a seat on a bus, but E.D Nixon and other Black leaders seemed to utilize Parks as a catalyst to start the bus boycott in Montgomery. It would have been impossible to rally 40,000 people in 2 days in any other town but Montgomery had a core of Black activists, from Martin Luther King and his passionate speeches, to the women’s political council who distributed boycott notices around the city.
Eventually, after the 381 day boycott, the buses of Montgomery were desegregated. One could argue that prejudice and racism still existed so the boycott was insignificant, but on a whole it demonstrated the power of protest and acted as a catalyst to start the Civil Rights movement and propel key figures, like Ralph Abernathy, and MLK.
Mr Tarr Notes:
Importance of Leadership. MLK and Abernathy complemented each other perfectly. In many ways MLK can be characterised as the ‘brain’ of the operation, providing the moral and intellectual rationale behind the campaign, whilst Abernathy was the ‘heart’ who helped inspire with his common touch. MLK was propelled to the forefront of the movement by the Montgomery campaign and his doctrine of nonviolent resistance provided its basis for the next decade, whilst his SCLC – formed during the movement – became a central organisation.
NOTE: Churches are particularly important because Jim Crow laws ban blacks from meeting in any numbers. The churches are a loophole, and become a hotbed of resistance (this also explains why they are bombed increasingly frequently). The Ooona King Podcast has an interview segment with her aunt which stresses how religion provided the strength and focus needed for the movement. An interesting example of faith and TOK.w
Power of collective action. The co-ordinated efforts of the churches, the MIA and the NAACP helped maintain the momentum and focus of the boycott over an unprecedented period and with notable success. Montgomery lost an estimated $10 million in earnings due to the economic disruption caused, with the result that even many white tradesmen ended up supporting the campaign.
Power of the media. Over 100 journalists came to Montgomery and their coverage of the event helped inspire a further 20 boycotts in other Southern cities. The mugshots of MLK, Abernathy and Rosa Parks – arrested under arcane laws for their ‘illegal boycott’ – became iconic symbols of the arbitrary capriciousness of the Southern authorities.
Added to timeline:
International Baccalaureate History- The Civil Rights Movement