"Our leaders is just we ourself."
-- Claudette Colvin, sixteen, Montgomery federal court, May 11, 1956
On the morning of December 5, 1955, the black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, inaugurated a year-long boycott of the racially segregated city buses. That afternoon, the boycott leaders elected Martin Luther King Jr., twenty-six- year-old pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which they formed to direct the protest. Although King did not start the bus boycott, he grasped its significance at once. Chosen more because of existing leadership divisions than his own perceived strengths, he confidently took charge. When the mass protest persevered against unrelenting pressures from city hall, county courts, and white extremists, King emerged as a national and international symbol of the African American freedom struggle and was embraced by white and black media alike. While newspapers and magazines promoted an image of the young Baptist preacher as the bus boycott's prime mover, he acted within a broad structure of grassroots leadership that had been preparing the ground for black community mobilization long before he arrived in the Cradle of the Confederacy.
Founded in 1819 and designated the Alabama capital in 1847, the city in the heart of the fertile Black Belt in the southern half of the state sat on a bluff overlooking the winding Alabama River. Montgomery had served as a center for cotton marketing and slave auctions before the Civil War. In February 1861 ex-MississippisenatorJefferson Davis chaired a meeting in Montgomery of white leaders from six southern states, including Alabama, that had decided to secede from the Union. These slaveholders drafted a constitution for the