Friday, March 4, 2011

Report outlines the impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

(The following research paper was written by Tess Harmon, an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at Joplin East Middle School.)
In the mid-1950’s, segregation flourished.  It seemed like African Americans couldn’t go anywhere without being mistreated.  One of the most conspicuous places of segregation was the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system.
The Montgomery city code mandated that “all public transportation be segregated” and that bus drivers had the same privilege as a police officer when it came to enforcing the city code.  Drivers had to provide “separate but equal” treatment.  To do so, buses place colored people in the back, and whites in the front.  If needed, a bus driver could ask a colored passenger to move. (

Pre-Boycott Rebellion

 Several of the black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, grew tired of this treatment and decided to act.
One of these people was Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl.  She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council.  ( 
On March 2, as more and more white passengers boarded the bus, Colvin thought back to what she had learned in school that day.  They were studying black history, such as Harriet Tubman, an Underground Railroad worker, and Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and former slave.  They were also discussing the unfair consequences of the Jim Crow laws, such as not being able to try on shoes.  (
When the bus driver asked her to move, Colvin refused because she had paid the bus fee and it was her “constitutional right.” The driver then called the police, who arrested Colvin and took her to jail. (
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) thought about initiating a test trial for the unfair treatment on Montgomery buses, but as Colvin was only a teen at the time and later became pregnant, the NAACP did not feel that she was a good candidate. (
Another key person in the rebellion against the buses was Lillie Mae Bradford.  In May of 1951, Bradford had boarded the bus, paid her fare, and received her transfer slip.  When she sat down in her seat, she realized that her slip had been incorrectly marked.  This had happened many times in the past, not only to her, but many other colored people at that time.   (
Bradford decided that she was not going to quietly sit down without pointing the error out to the driver.  The bus driver simply ignored her and told her to go sit down.  Not letting the matter drop, Bradford sat down in the seat behind the driver and continued to ask him to correct the transfer slip.  (
The bus driver proceeded to call the police and have her arrested for disorderly conduct.  Bradford was soon released on bail. (
Mary Louise Smith also helped in the revolt.  On October 21, 1965, Mary was on the Montgomery bus, when she was asked to move for a white passenger.  Smith blatantly refused.  She was soon arrested and charged with failure to obey segregation orders. (
Like Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith was being considered for a test trial.  While Smith herself was a good candidate, she was not chosen because her father was a supposed drunk. (

The Rosa Parks Incident

December 1, 1955, was a day that changed history forever.  A woman named Rosa Parks, an NAACP member, sat in her seat on that Montgomery bus.  She did not know of the events that would permanently alter the way whites looked at colored people.  (
            When a white person boarded the bus, four blacks were asked to move.  One of them was forty-two year old Rosa Parks. (Stein)  The three stood up, but Parks remained seated, claiming, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.”  (
The bus driver was quick to arrest her, and she was charged with violating a city ordinance.  She was fined $10, along with a $4 court fee. ((

The Boycott

When news of Rosa Parks’ arrest broke, the black community was shocked.  It was decided that there would be a one-day boycott led by a new priest, Martin Luther King Jr.  About ninety percent of the black community participated (, though King only expected about sixty percent. (King)
King decided to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).  The night of their first meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, the community suggested extending the boycott. ( King believed that it was a good idea, and told the community, “We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us for so long that we are tired—tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression… For many years we have shown amazing patience.  We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated.  But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”(King)
The boycott continued for a few days.  On December 8, MIA leaders and officials of the city met to discuss a proposal for buses that was fairer to blacks.  However, no agreement could be reached. (
This posed a problem for the colored community.  Very few blacks had cars, and the buses were their only way to get to work and school.  In order to overcome this problem, the MIA formed a car pool for those whose workplace was too far away to walk.  ( People fixed up old buggies and used horses to pull them.  Those who had cars gave rides to those who did not. (King)  Eventually, the car pool had more than two hundred private cars, most of which were operated by churches. ( One man saw an elderly woman walking down the sidewalk and offered her a ride.  When he asked her if she was tired, she turned to him and replied, “My feet are tired, but my soul is at rest.” (Stein)
Meanwhile, meetings with city officials continued, but like before, no agreement was made. (
As the boycott continued, it began to hurt the bus companies.  They were forced to raise prices from ten cents to fifteen cents. (Stein)  The city penalized taxis for charging blacks ten cents, the original fee for buses.  (King)
The city wanted to make it known that they would not stand for this kind of revolt.  Whites began to get more and more aggressive.  Martin Luther King Jr. began to get anonymous, threatening phone calls.  On January 30, 1956, King’s house, with his wife and daughter inside, was bombed, as was several others of the MIA’s leaders.  In mid-March, King was convicted of violating the anti-boycott law.  (
Though many of the leaders seriously considered abandoning the boycott, it lasted throughout the end of 1955 and 1956, a total of thirteen months. (


            Throughout the boycott, the entire black community had tried to have the bus segregation laws declared unconstitutional.  When a law similar to the Montgomery bus segregation policy was declared as such, the leaders of the MIA decided to take their case to court. (  On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court was ruled as unconstitutional, ending the Montgomery bus boycott.  (Stein)
            Ramsey Clark said, “If Rosa Parks had not refused to move to the back of the bus, you and I might have never heard of Dr. Martin Luther King. (
The Montgomery Bus boycott was said to be the first “mass attack on segregation.”  Others say that it was what started the Civil Rights Movement.  While all of these are respectable speculations, one thing is for sure.  History was changed forever.

King, Martin Luther Jr.  Stride Toward Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1958, Print.

Stein, R. Conrad.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Canada: Children’s Press, 1993, Print.

“Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin.” NPR. Adler, Margaret. March 17, 2009.
“Claudette Colvin.” The Montgomery Advertiser. June 7, 2005.

“Claudette Colvin.” The Montgomery Advertiser. Kitchen, Sebastian.  June 7, 2005.

“Effects of the Incident.” Tripod. April 6, 2006.

“Lillie Mae Bradford.” The Montgomery Advertiser. Greene, Terri.  June 7, 2005.

“Mary Louise Smith.” Rivers of Change. February 20, 2011.

“The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Timeline.” The Montgomery Advertiser. June 7, 2005.

 “Rosa Parks Biography.” Academy of Achievement. October 14, 2010.

“Rosa Parks Biography.” February 20, 2011.

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