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Black History Month: Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956)

February is Black History Month and this year marks the 400th anniversary that blacks were brought to Bermuda as indentured servants. Throughout this month, The Royal Gazette will feature people, events, places and institutions that have contributed to the shaping of African history.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, was a crucial event in the 20th-century Civil Rights Movement.

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a Montgomery seamstress on her way home from work, refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white man and was subsequently arrested.

E.D. Nixon, the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, used the arrest to launch a bus boycott to fight the city's segregated bus policy. Together with Jo Ann Robinson of the Women's Political Council, and other black leaders, Nixon set plans for the boycott.

The idea of the boycott had been floating around for months. Both Nixon and Robinson were waiting for a test cast to challenge the segregated bus policy in court.

They knew that they would have large support from black women who made up a majority of the bus users.

The only thing missing was a good test candidate and Parks, respectable and middle-class, seemed perfect for the role. On Friday, December 2, Robinson created a flyer that she distributed to black families around Montgomery.

The flyer told of the arrest of Parks and mentioned that 75 per cent of the bus riders were blacks and if there was a boycott of the bus system, the city would be forced to pay attention to these customers.

It then called for a boycott of the buses on Monday, December 5. Robinson arranged a meeting with the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, the ministers of two of the largest black churches in the city. While they hesitated at first, they ultimately agreed to participate and held a meeting at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr King's church, to plan the boycott.

A new organisation, the Montgomery Improvement Association, was created to lead the boycott and Dr King was appointed its president.

It was also decided that the boycott should continue until the buses were no longer segregated. To get people around town during the boycott, the churches bought or rented cars and station wagons to transport them. Meanwhile, boycott supporters challenged the legality of bus segregation in court. Their case, Browder v Gayle, was eventually heard by the United States Supreme Court, which ruled on November 13, 1956 in favour of the plaintiffs.

The boycott ended on December 20, 1956, 381 days after it had begun. The buses in Montgomery were now integrated.

• Sources: Vic Sanders, “Rosa Parks & the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” History Review, 55:6, (Sept, 2006); Montgomery Bus Boycott Overview, http://www.montgomeryboycott.com/article_overview.htm

Mass movement: black residents on foot during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955

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Published February 29, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated February 29, 2016 at 10:45 am)

Black History Month: Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956)

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