Black History: Special Delivery!!
December 5, 2015 marked 60 years since the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. With 75-80% of bus riders in Montgomery being African American, the economic impact of the boycott was devastating. During the boycott, approximately 325 private vehicles picked up thousands of passengers on a daily basis from 43 dispatch stations and 42 pick up sites from 5am-8pm. Crippled economically, the city of Montgomery was forced to desegregate its bus system. Many are familiar with the efforts of the Montgomery Improvement Association in overseeing the boycott. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was its first president. However, many may be unaware of the critical role that the Women’s Political Council played in launching the boycott.
The Women’s Political Council (WPC) was founded in 1946 by Mary Fair Burks, a professor at Alabama State College. Burks launched the organization after she was arrested due to a traffic dispute involving a white woman. The purpose of the organization was to educate blacks in Montgomery on their constitutional rights and increase voter registration among blacks. Within in one week, Burks recruited 40 women to join the organization. Burks was the organization’s first president. The Women’s Political Council became very active in advocating for civil rights. By the 1950’s the organization had approximately 300 members, all of whom were registered voters (which was an impressive accomplishment for women at that time).
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, a professor at Alabama State College became president in 1950. She focused the efforts of the organization on addressing discrimination on city buses. WPC met a number of times with local city officials in Montgomery in 1954 and 1955, to no avail. WPC had actually been contemplating a boycott of the Montgomery City bus line for several years (even before the arrest of Rosa Parks.) After Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, WPC decided to call for a boycott. The WPC distributed 50,000 fliers that read, “The Women’s Political Council will not wait for Mrs. Parks’ consent to call for a boycott of city buses. On Dec. 2, 1955, the women of Montgomery will call for a boycott to take place on Monday, Dec. 5.”
On December 5, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was illegal; thus ending the 381 day bus boycott. The WPC continued to work in advocating for the civil rights of blacks. The tireless efforts of this group of women deserves to be celebrated.
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