Montgomery Bus Boycott Timeline

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Participants in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Public Domain

 Overview

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress and secretary of the local NAACP, refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. As a result, Parks was arrested for violating a city law. Parks’ actions and subsequent arrest launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott, pushing Martin Luther King Jr. into the national spotlight.  


Background

Jim Crow Era laws segregating African-Americans and whites in the South was a way of life and upheld by the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision.

Throughout southern states, African-Americans could not use the same public facilities as white residents. Private businesses reserved the right not to serve African-Americans.

In Montgomery, whites were allowed to board the bus through the front doors. African-Americans, however, had to pay in the front and then go to the back of the bus to board. It was not uncommon for a bus driver to pull off before an African-American passenger could board through the back. Whites were able to take seats in the front while African-Americans had to sit in the back. It was at the discretion of the bus driver to identify where the “colored section” was located. It is also important to remember that African-Americans could not even sit in the same row as whites. So if a white person boarded, there were no free seats, an entire row of African-American passengers would have to stand so that the white passenger could sit.

Montgomery Bus Boycott Timeline

1954

Professor Joann Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council (WPC), meets with Montgomery city officials to discuss changes to the bus system--namely segregation.

1955

March:

On March 2, Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl from Montgomery, is arrested for refusing to allow a white passenger to sit in her seat.

Colvin is charged with assault, disorderly conduct, and violating segregation laws.

Throughout the month of March, local African-American leaders meet with Montgomery city administrators concerning segregated buses. local NAACP president E.D. Nixon, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are present at the meeting. However, Colvin’s arrest does not ignite anger in the African-American community and a boycott plan is not devised.

October:

On October 21, Eighteen-year-old Mary Louise Smith is arrested for not giving up her seat to a white bus rider.

December:

On December 1, Rosa Parks is arrested for not allowing a white man to sit in her seat on the bus.

The WPC launches a one-day bus boycott on December 2. Robinson also creates and distributes flyers throughout Montgomery’s African-American community concerning Parks’ case and a call to action: boycott the bus system of December 5.

On December 5, the boycott was held and almost all members of Montgomery’s  African-American community participate. Robinson reached out to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, pastors at two of the largest African-American churches in Montgomery. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) is established and King is elected president.

The organization also votes to extend the boycott.

By December 8, the MIA presented a formal list of demands to Montgomery city officials. Local officials refuse to desegregate buses.

On December 13, the MIA creates a carpooling system for African-American residents participating in the boycott.

1956

January: 

King’s home is bombed on January 30. The following day, E.D. Dixon’s home is also bombed.

February 

On February 21, more than 80 leaders of the boycott are indicted as a result of Alabama’s anti-conspiracy laws.

March

King is indicted as the boycott’s leader on March 19. He is ordered to pay $500 or serve 386 days in jail.

June 

Bus segregation is ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court on June 5.

November 

By November 13, the Supreme Court upheld the district court’s ruling and struck down laws legalizing racial segregation on buses.

However, the MIA will not end the boycott until the desegregation of buses was officially enacted.

December 

On December 20, the Supreme Court’s injunction against public buses are delivered to Montgomery city officials.

The following day, December 21, Montgomery public buses are desegregated and the MIA ends its boycott.

Aftermath

In history books, it is often argued that the Montgomery Bus Boycott placed King in the national spotlight and launched the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Yet how much do we know about Montgomery after the boycott?

Two days after the desegregation of bus seating, a shot was fired into the front door of King’s home. The following day, a group of white men assaulted an African-American teenager exiting a bus. Soon after, two buses were fired at by snipers, shooting a pregnant woman in both of her legs.

By January 1957, five African-American churches were bombed as was the home of Robert S. Graetz, who had sided with the MIA.

As a result of the violence,  city officials suspended bus service for several weeks.

Later that year, Parks, who had launched the boycott, left the city permanently for Detroit.