Fred Gray (1930 – ) was described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as “the brilliant young negro who later became the chief counsel for the protest movement” (King, 41). He provided legal counsel to Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Improvement Association, and other civil rights organizations. Born in Montgomery, AL, Gray became a preacher when as a teenager. He was the youngest of 5 children. Gray received a bachelors degree from Alabama State College For Negroes in 1951; and an LLB from Case Western Reserve University in 1954. He was unable to attend law school in Alabama due to segregation. Returning to Montgomery after graduation, he began a private law practice, while also working as a minister at Holt Street Church of Christ.
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.
Mahala Ashley Dickerson (1912—2007) made history, becoming the first African American female attorney to be admitted to the Alaska and Alabama bar associations. Advocacy for the poor, women, and minorities was a hallmark of her legal career. Dickerson was born in Montgomery County, outside of Montgomery, Alabama. She had two sisters, Erna and Harriet. Dickerson attended Miss White’s School For Girls, which was also known as the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. It was a private, K-8 school for African American girls. The school was started in 1886 by two white Christian educators, Alice White and H. Margaret Beard. White and Beard desired to provide an excellent education for African American girls as well as instill a sense of confidence a pride in the girls they educated. The school also promoted racial equality. The school’s curriculum focused on Christian morality, academic courses, and vocational education. All students were required to wear uniforms and were discouraged from wearing makeup and jewelry. Surprisingly students were encouraged to wear their hair, “natural” and not straighten it. It was here that Dickerson, would meet civil rights leader, Rosa Parks, who was also a student. The two would forge a life-long friendship. Continue reading “Mahala Ashley Dickerson: Legal Trailblazer And Life Long Friend Of Rosa Parks”→
In honor of Rosa Parks birthday, I’m reposting, 10 THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDNT KNOW ABOUT ROSA PARKS. She was truly a phenomenal woman! Many focus on her actions that launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But she was an activist long before that! She traveled the south on behalf of the NAACP investigating sexual assaults of black women.
60 years ago today the Montgomery Bus Boycott was launched on December 5, 1955. It was just days after Rosa Parks was arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger.
Blacks refused to ride the buses. They car pooled and walked to work. And they did it for 381 Days!! The boycott financially crippled the transit system in Montgomery as blacks represented a large portion of the ridership.
So while some would like to think hearts were softened and minds were opened; what brought about the change was the ECONOMIC IMPACT. A disenfranchised, group without much individual power, collectively shut down city finances.
Keep in mind there we no Twitter, no Facebook, no fax machines or other social media. The bus was the primary transportation for MANY! Yet they made this huge sacrifice.
Black Mail Fast Fact: The actual bus that Rosa Parks rode on December 1, 1955 (which helped launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott) sat in a field for 30 years in Alabama before it was restored to its original condition. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan bought the bus through an auction for $492,000 in 2001 and then had it restored at an additional cost of $300,000 The restoration took place in Southfield, MI and was paid for by government grants (Save America’s Treasures Grant). The bus remains on display at The Henry Ford Museum
Earlier today, we asked our Black Mail Readers: Which NAACP staffer investigated and rallied the black community of Alabama in opposition to sexual assault committed against black women? The answer is “B”-Rosa Parks.
Though she is known for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus launching the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Ms. Parks was also a field secretary for the NAACP in Montgomery. In this role she investigated and advocated for victims of sexual assault. Parks herself was the victim of an attempted sexual assault. A white man who employed her as a housekeeper attempted to rape her in 1931. Below is an excerpt from a document handwritten by Parks detailing the attempted assault.
One case in particular championed by Parks in work with the NAACP was the rape of Recy Taylor. In 1944, Recy Taylor was gang raped by 7 white men. Though the men admitted to the crime, they were never indicted or brought to trial. In her role with the NAACP, Rosa Parks rallied the local community and tried to seek justice on behalf of Recy Taylor. Taylor is still alive. There is no statute of limitations on rape cases in Alabama. So her attackers (if they are still alive) could still be brought to trial. Recy Taylor’s experience as well as that of other victims was highlighted in the book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – “A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power” by Danielle McGuire.
In those days, though many black victims sought justice very few received it. I have personally read this book and it really brings to light the heroism and bravery of the black women were victims of sexual assault and the brave women and men who risked their lives and personal safety to seek justice on behalf of sexual assault victims.