Montgomery Bus Boycott

Between the mid 1950’s and late 1960’s, there was a series of social movements throughout the US and partially in the South known as the Civil Rights Movement. The main goal was to end racial discrimination and segregation against African Americans. Despite the passage of the 14th Amendment, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a pivotal moment during the Civil Rights Movement because it saw the review of the US Constitution, brought to light one of the most iconic African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr, and directed the future of the Civil Rights Movement. Some would disagree with the argument that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and argue that what Rosa Parks did was by far more pivotal than the boycott. “Academy of Achievement”, a website that has factual stories dedicated to those who were important to America’s history.

The website wrote, “ This brave woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere” (Academy of Achievement 1). Segregation was written into law; the front of a bus was reserved for white citizens, and the seats behind them for black citizens. However, bus drivers had the authority to ask a black person to give up a seat for a white person. Laws on this contradicted one other. For example, one said segregation must be enforced, but another law that was largely ignored said, no person (white or black) could be asked to give up a seat even if there were no other seat on the bus available. Nonetheless, at one point on the route, a white man had no seat because all the seats in the front were taken. So the driver told the riders in the four seats of the first row of the back section to stand, in effect adding another row to the “white” section.

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The three others obeyed. Parks did not. Thus leading her to get arrested.

This was an important part in the Civil Rights Movement but it wasn’t the pivotal moment. Rosa Parks could be said to have started the movement but what she did was nowhere near as pivotal as the Montgomery Bus Boycott because it didn’t bring change. Rosa Parks arrest was the igniter African American people needed to start change. Brown vs Board of Education some would say was key point in the Civil Rights Movement because it was a landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that overturned the ‘separate but equal’ approach to public schooling. Karen Wolff, a History Professor at Yale wrote an article explaining the entirety of the Brown vs Board of Education.

Wolff wrote, “NAACP chapters encouraged Black parents to send their children to “White” schools, and there had been retaliation against those who did. There had also been three mass marches on Washington on the school issue. …In 1959, 400,000 signatures were presented to Congressman Charles Diggs petitioning the President and Congress for a program to insure the orderly and speedy integration of schools” (Wolff 1).

In its decision, the Supreme Court reversed the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, which originally upheld the ‘separate but equal’ laws. All the Brown vs Topeka did was bring change and revision of past trials. After the case, changes to schooling were being made but happened slowly. African Americans were allowed to attend schools with the Whites but that didn’t stop the poor treatment of Blacks.

There would be designated bathrooms for the Colored and “Non- Colored” . Thought African Africans were considered equal, they were not treated as equals. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a pivotal moment during the Civil Rights Movement because it saw the review of the US Constitution. The boycott lasted from December 5, 1955—the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African American woman who was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white person—to December 20, 1956, when a federal ruling, Browder v. Gayle, took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring buses to be segregated unconstitutional. The court’s decision came the same day that King and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) were in circuit court challenging an injunction against the MIA carpools. Resolved not to end the boycott until the order to desegregate the buses actually arrived in Montgomery, the MIA operated without the carpool system for a month. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, and on 20 December 1956 King called for the end of the boycott; the community agreed.

King’s role in the bus boycott garnered international attention, and the MIA’s tactics of combining mass nonviolent protest with Christian ethics became the model for challenging segregation in the South.The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought to light one of the most iconic African- Americans. Martin Luther King Jr , in 1954, decided to accept an offer to become the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. King’s name started to spread because church leaders said they were looking for a noncontroversial pastor who could help restore morale; King would end up being perfect for this. In December 1955, when Montgomery black leaders, such as Jo Ann Robinson, E.

D. Nixon, and Ralph Abernathy formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to protest the arrest of NAACP official Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, they selected King to head the new group. In his role as the primary spokesman of the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, King utilized the leadership abilities he had gained from his religious background and academic training to forge a distinctive protest strategy that involved the mobilization of black churches and skillful appeals for white support.

With the encouragement of Bayard Rustin, Glenn Smiley, William Stuart Nelson and other veteran pacifists, King also became a firm advocate of Mahatma Gandhi’s precepts of nonviolence, which he combined with Christian social gospel ideas, would turn out to be one of the most important people during the Civil Rights Movement. Knowing what African- Americans were capable of, they were able to bring change. The Montgomery Bus Boycott showed that these African- Americans were able to band together and fight something they believed was cruel and unjustified. That being said, the Boycott lead to the Civil Rights Act being passed. This ended segregation in public places and banned employment  discrimination based off of race, religion, sex, or national origin. It was first proposed by JFK, but passed by LBJ despite strong opposition from southern members of Congress. The ban on discrimination in public places included courthouses, parks, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas and hotels. Blacks could no longer be denied service based off of the color of their skin.

Labor unions and employers could also no longer discriminate based on skin color, leading to the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Office of Education (now called the Department of Education) assisted in the desegregation of schools. With the Montgomery Bus Boycott bringing in jurassic results. African- Americans saw a chance to capitalize.

On March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent protesters to the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. This was known as the Selma to Montgomery March. John Lewis was a key organizer of the march. Lewis was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization dedicated to ending segregation and to registering black voters. The movement practiced this idea of pacifism, in other words a non-violent protest. It failed because when the marchers were confronted by troopers. Martin Luther then lead the second march and it was successful  because Congress saw what was happening and decided to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act gave African- Americans the right to vote all because of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Boycott showed that if a group of people stood for what was right, together as one, they could bring forth change. These people showed that they were not treated fair. These non- violent protests showed that these African- Americans were the bigger people because they didn’t fight back when they were being attacked by officials. All this because of the statement they made with the Bus Boycott.

The Civil Rights Movement was a time that  encompasses the strategies, groups, and social movements which accomplished its goal of ending racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans. Despite previous attempts of ending this segregation and discrimination like the 14th Amendment, the Montgomery Bus Boycott brought a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement because it showed Congress that the US Constitution was unconstitutional, made Martin Luther King Jr a name that all would remember because of the impact he made and directed the future of the Civil Rights Movement.