The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Segregation has been an issue in the United States for over a century. Only 50 years ago, activists and civil rights groups, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), helped to put an end to all segregation laws. It was a lengthy and tedious process, but the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a huge step for civil rights activists and their strive for equal rights, in more ways than one, this movement helped shape the society we live in today. Rosa Parks was one of the participants, and is largely credited with being the spark that started the Montgomery bus boycott.

On February 4, 1913, one of the most influential civil rights activists was born. Rosa Parks, born Rosa Louise McCauley, was the daughter of James and Leona McCauley. In 1915, however, the couple separated; Parks was two at the time. The separation forced Rosa and her mother to move to Pine Level, Alabama and live with Rosa’s grandparents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards. Rose, as well as Sylvester, were former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality. They lived on the family farm, where Rosa spent most of her youth.

Rosa Parks was taught to read at a very young age by her mother. She spent her entire education enrolled in segregated schools including the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery for elementary. She then went on to attend a laboratory school for secondary education led by the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes. However, in 1929, Parks left the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes to attend her ill grandmother and mother back in Pine Level. She had planned on returning to finish her studies, but instead became employed at a shirt factory in Montgomery. She wouldn’t go back to earn her high school degree until 1933; she did so with her husband, Raymond Parks, support. 

Roughly 40,000 African-Americans bus riders, which was the vast majority of all of the bus riders, began to boycott the system. The MIA elected Martin Luther King Jr. as its president. He was 26 years old at the time and a pastor of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. As the boycott began, Martin told the city that the boycott would only stop when they met their demands. Attorney Fred D. Gray and the NAACP represented five women from Montgomery, they began to sue the city due to their segregated laws which were invalidated. To make their boycott a total success, black leaders organized carpools, and all of the city’s African-Americans began to charge 10 cents for a taxi ride, which was the same price as a bus fare. Many African-Americans also chose to walk instead. It wasn’t until June 5th, 1956, that the federal court ruled that any law requiring racially segregated seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment guarantees all citizens, regardless of their race, equal rights and protection under state and federal laws.

Before the Boycott, Rosa and her husband Raymond were active in the local chapter of the NAACP. Parks served as the NAACP secretary for twelve years (1943-1956). Then, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a crowded Montgomery bus to a white passenger. After her arrest, Parks called E.D. Nixon, a well known black leader, who bailed her out of jail later that night and determined that she would be an inspirational and sympathetic plaintiff in a legal challenge of the segregation ordinance.

After the boycott, all of the Montgomery buses put an end to all remaining segregated seating. Even though this was a huge success for the African-Americans, many other citizens were left unhappy with the decision. Many citizens still disagree with integration, which caused many acts of violence and resistance to occur. Snipers began to fire on buses with African-Americans on board, in one case, a shooter shattered both legs of a pregnant African-American passenger. Four black churches and the homes of prominent black leaders were then bombed by citizens who didn’t approve of the law changes. Shortly after, a bomb was planted at Martin Luther King’s house, fortunately it was found by officials and defused. After this, seven Klu Klux Klan members were arrested for the bombings; this was primarily responsible for the end of busing-related violence.

After the boycott, Rosa Parks was employed as an administrative aid in the Detroit office of Congressman John Conyers Jr. (1965), she continued to work in this position until she held until her retirement (1988). She then went on and served the NAACP for fifteen years, including working as a sexual investigator on cases like the rape of Recy Taylor. Unfortunately, in 1977- 1979, her husband, brother and mother all passed due to cancer. With the help of her long-time friend Elaine Eason Steele, she was able to co-found the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The institution helps serve Detroit’s youth citizens’ development and civil rights education and advocacy, it was founded in honor of Rosa’s late husband, Raymond Parks.