Let Freedom Ring: A Documentary History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement

By Peter B. Levy | Go to book overview

Chapter Three THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus in the downtown shopping district of Montgomery, Alabama, and sat down in an area open to blacks. In time, newcomers filled the empty seats until one white person was left standing. The bus driver, James Blake, requested that Parks and the other black passengers in the front give up their seats. All of them complied except for Parks. When the driver was unable to get Parks to obey the law, he notified the city police who placed her under arrest.

Parks' refusal to give up her seat sparked a mass bus boycott in Montgomery. For over a year blacks walked, car-pooled, and bicycled to work. Finally, following a Supreme Court decision which ruled that a local bus-segregation ordinance was unconstitutional, the buses were desegregated. In addition to displaying a new level of militancy, the boycott catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr.--prior to the protests an obscure minister--into the limelight. His philosophy of nonviolence struck a responsive chord among blacks and whites, and his charisma and oratorical skills fed and reinforced the determination of blacks, nationwide, to demand full equality.

3.1 In the first piece of this chapter, Parks, with simple eloquence, describes her refusal to give up her seat. While her decision was spontaneous, she had long been active in the local civil rights struggle. She had been a member of the NAACP and had attended human relations workshops conducted by the Highlander Folk School. She was close friends with several local activists, including E. D. Nixon and Clifford and Virginia Durr. These connections, along with her reputation in the black community, as a hard-working family woman, contributed to the success of the boycott. Earlier that same year, a young woman had

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