Montgomery bus boycott, 1955-6
How it started...
1955 - Claudette Colvin originally proved widespread support in Montgomery for challenging bus segregation.
The NAACP turned to long-standing, respected member Rosa Parks to help with the protest.
On 1 December 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, and was consequently arrested and fined $14. Her arrest led to:
I.) The NAACP mounting a legal case to challenge segregation laws.
II.) The black people of Montgomery began a campaign of direct action targeting local bus companies.
NAACP leader, E.D. Nixon, called a meeting of Montgomery's black leaders; the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was established under the leadership of Martin Luther King.
Montgomery bus boycott, 1955-6
Nixon's swift action meant that the boycott began on the day Parks was fined.
The boycott lasted over a year, during which time 85% of Montgomery's black community boycotted the buses. To sustain this, the MIA organised initiatives such as car pooling.
65% loss in bus companies' revenue due to high percentage of black passengers.
Montgomery authorities soon realised the significance of the boycott, and, following a protest, King and 156 other black protestors were arrested.
King was fined $500 and sentenced to a year in prison.
However, the arrests backfired as they quickly drew media attention to the campaign. King served two weeks of his sentence and proclaimd that he was proud of his crime.
Browder v. Gayle, 1956
The NAACP's way of finishing what they'd started in Montgomery.
The Montgomery bus boycott itself did not change segregation laws.
In April 1955, Aurelia Browder was arrested for the same reason Parks was; she refused her charges and, with the help of the NAACP, took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. On 20 December 1956, the court outlawed segregation on public buses.
Significance of the Montgomery campaign
- Showed economic power of black citizens (bus companies crippled without their custom)
- Demonstrated power of uniting the people's direct action with an NAACP campaign
- Highlighted significance of media involvement
- Demonstrated MLK's leadership qualities and brought him to national attention
- Led to establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
The Little Rock Campaign, 1957
1957 - De facto desegregation of education had made little progress. Little Rock aimed to speed this up.
Nine black students were enrolled in Little Rock's all-white high school. Local Governor Orval Faubus ordered the National Guard to prevent their entry, along with a white mob.
The US Department of Justice forced Faubus to withdraw the National Guard via court injunction, and Eisenhower ordered them to protect the students from the white racists. Faubus closed schools to avoid desegregation and 4000 students were forced to move schools. The NAACP took this to court with Cooper v. Aaron (1958) and made it illegal to prevent desegregation. In 1959, schools were forced to reopen and accept all students.
- Demonstrated that de jure changes did not always lead to de facto changes
- Eisenhower's involvement gave the campaign presidential authority
- Faubus' actions showed the extent of white opposition in the south
Greensboro sit-ins, 1960
February 1960 - Four students sat in 'whites-only' seats in a Woolworth's store and refused to leave until they were served. The protest escalated quickly - on the second day there were 27 students; on the fourth, 300; and by the end of the week, the store had to be closed.
Similar protests followed; within a month, in six surrounding states. By the end of 1961, over 70,000 people had taken part in demonstrations inspired by Greensboro.
- Increased the number of civil rights organisations and showed they could co-operate
- Demonstrated how quickly and effectively campaigns could spread
- Media coverage showed persecution, increasing support for the movement
- Proved economic power of black citizens - Woolworth's profits decreased by a third
- By the end of 1961, 810 towns had desegregated their public places
Freedom Rides, 1961
Designed to turn de jure victories of Morgan v. Virginia and Boynton v. Virginia into de facto desegregation of interstate transport.
4 May 1961 - Seven black and six white activists from CORE and SNCC.
Met with violent opposition. In Birmingham, Police Chief 'Bull' Connor refused to protect the protestors, and even granted most of his police force the day off, giving the green light to local racists. In Montgomery, police and medics refused to intervene.
King, initially keen not to become involved, gave a rallying speech in support.
Significant victory - Attorney General Robert Kennedy made to enforce desegregation.
- Marked a new high-point of co-operation between groups
- Showed that the new Kennedy administration was sympathetic towards the movement
The Albany Movement, 1961-2
Following the Freedom Rides, SNCC targeted Albany with organised protests to end segregation.
Police Chief Laurie Pritchett worked out a strategy so as to deny the campaign media attention. He ordered his police force to treat the protestors with respect in public and had King released from prison in order to prevent violence, and he made very general promises for change which led to little concrete action.
- Showed that not all peaceful protest brought about change
- Led to divisions within the movement over whether or not to use violence
- King acknowledged that in future they should target specific areas and police chiefs who were likely to respond with violence
James Meredith and the University of Mississippi,
1962 - James Meredith tried to become the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Govenor Ross Barnett refused to allow this; however, the Supreme Court backed Meredith, and President Kennedy put pressure on Barnett to back down.
Meredith was eventually allowed to enroll in the school, but Barnett refused to allow him any formal protection, and violence from white protestors ensued.
Kennedy sent federal troops to protect Meredith, and eventually he was able to enroll successfully. However, there was much violent protest, and two people died in the ensuing riots. Meredith graduated in 1963 with a degree in Political Science.