Black History: Special Delivery!!
December 5, 2018 marks the 63rd anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. On May 21, 1954, just a few days after the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision (declaring segregated schools unconstitutional) Jo Ann Robinson penned a letter to the mayor of Montgomery, AL on behalf of the Women’s Political Council (WPC). The WPC was a civic organization for black women. It was originally started because the local chapter of the League of Women Voters refused to accept black women as members. Robinson’s letter demanded better conditions and treatment for African American riders on city buses. She threatened a boycott if conditions did not improve.
On December 1, 1955, just a year and a half later, Rosa Parks, a then 42 year old seamstress and NAACP field secretary refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery. Her courageous effort was an act of planned and deliberate resistance. Of her efforts, activist, Eldridge Cleaver said, “somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted.” Parks was arrested and fined $10. Though Parks is historically recognized as the face of the boycott, there were many other unsung individuals who were critical to the success of the boycott.
Jo Ann Robinson and the Women’s Political Council had long been civil rights advocates; even before the Montgomery Bus Boycott galvanized leaders such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. The role that women played in the Montgomery Bus Boycott deserves more recognition. Many women, at that time were employed as domestic workers and used the bus for transportation; more so than men in the community. This often made them targets of mistreatment. The WPC began taking action even before the “Montgomery Improvement Association” had selected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as its leader. On the night of Rosa Parks’ arrest they began distributing flyers calling for a boycott. Their efforts were an essential catalyst for the boycott. The majority of the 50,000 African Americans living in Montgomery refused to ride the buses during the 54 week long bus boycott. Instead they walked, bicycled and carpooled.
The revenue lost by the City of Montgomery due to the boycott was significant. While the boycott was under-way, the constitutionality of segregating public transportation was was being litigated in U.S. District Court (Browder vs. Gayle). On June 5, 1956, a panel of judges ruled 2 to 1 that segregation was unconstitutional citing the president set by the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the President of the Montgomery Improvement Association at the time. It was the organization that was coordinating the efforts of the boycott. Dr. King refused to end the boycott until the ruling was fully implemented. This occurred on November November 13, 1956. The City of Montgomery appealed the decision. Their appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Today we salute not only the heroic efforts of Rosa Parks, and also the unsung efforts of Jo Ann Robinson, The Women’s Political Council (WPC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the thousands of men, women, and children participated in the boycott.