Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political protest campaign in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama intended to oppose the city’s policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. The boycott was precipitated by Rosa Parks‘ refusal to give up her bus seat in favor of a white passenger. In Montgomery, the dividing line between the front seats reserved for white passengers and the back ones reserved for black passengers was not fixed. When the front of the bus was full, the driver could order black passengers sitting towards the front of the bus to surrender their seat. Rosa Parks‘ seat was in that border area. She was arrested on December 1, 1955 for her refusal to move. It is sometimes reported by oral legend that Parks was simply too tired to move from her seat after a long day of work. This is dismissible as pop-history simplicity: In truth, she was a voluntary test case, chosen by the NAACP (with whom she was employed) to bring the relevant city law to the Supreme Court for judgement as to its constitutionality. Planned violations meant to test the strength of a law have been used in numerous civil rights cases before and after, including Plessy v. Ferguson. In church meetings with the new minister in the city, Martin Luther King, Jr., a city-wide boycott of public transit as a protest for a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses was proposed and passed.
The boycott proved extremely effective, with enough riders lost to the city transit system to cause serious economic distress. Instead of riding buses, boycotters organized a system of carpools, with car owners volunteering their vehicles or themselves driving people to various destinations. Black taxi drivers charged ten cents per ride, a fare equal to the cost to ride the bus, in support of the boycott. When word of this reached city officials, the order went out to fine any cab driver who charged a rider less than 45 cents. In addition to using private motor vehicles, some people used non-motorized means to get around, such as bicycling and walking, and some hitchhiked. Across the nation, black churches raised money to support the boycott and collected new and slightly used shoes to replace the tattered footwear of Montgomery’s black citizens, many of whom walked everywhere, rather than ride the buses and submit to Jim Crow. In response, opposing whites swelled the ranks of White Citizens‘ Council, the membership of which doubled during the course of the boycott. Like the Ku Klux Klan, the Councils sometimes resorted to violence: Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy’s houses were firebombed, and boycotters were physically attacked. Under a 1921 ordinance, 156 protestors were arrested for „hindering“ a bus, including King. He was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine or serve 386 days in jail. The move backfired by bringing national attention to the protest. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that Alabama’s racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional, handing the protesters a clear victory. This victory led to a city ordinance that allowed black bus passengers to sit virtually anywhere they wanted. Martin Luther King capped off the victory of a magnanimous speech to encourage acceptance of the decision. The boycott resulted in the US civil rights movement receiving one of its first victories, and gave Martin Luther King the national attention that would make him one of the prime leaders of the cause. Word List: was precipitated – fiel aus als refusal – Ablehnung in favor – zu Gunsten oral legend – erzählte Legende is dismissible – kann verworfen werden ordinance – Verordnung