As spring turned to summer in Montgomery, the bus boycott's legal offensive heated up along with the air, pavement, and car pool radiators. The moral momentum of the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit was buttressed by a Supreme Court decision in late April in a bus segregation case from South Carolina.1 In 1954 Sarah Mae Flemming had sued the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, which operated city buses in Columbia, for violating her Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection by forcing her to move to the black section of a bus. In February 1955 a federal district judge dismissed her lawsuit, but her appeal was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in July 1955, which declared intrastate bus segregation unconstitutional. The Supreme Court's ruling on April 23, 1956, did not actually affirm the Fourth Circuit's decision but merely rejected the utility company's appeal as premature. Nonetheless, the narrow technical decision was widely perceived as striking down intrastate bus segregation--typified by the front-page New York Times headlines the next day: HIGH COURT VOIDS LAST COLOR LINES IN PUBLIC TRANSIT. EXTENDS BAN ON SEGREGATION TO INTRASTATE BUSES IN A SOUTH CAROLINA CASE. 13 STATES ARE AFFECTED. IMPACT OF RULING IS EXPECTED TO BE AS WIDE AS DECISION AGAINST SEPARATE SCHOOLS.
The hyperbole around the ambiguous decision spurred a number of southern bus lines to desegregate. Montgomery City Lines, reeling from the boycott, immediately ordered its drivers to end segregated seating. But Mayor Gayle and Police Commissioner Sellers resolved to continue enforcing the