Skip to content Skip to navigation

Notes on MIA Executive Board Meeting, by Donald T. Ferron

Ferron, Donald T.
January 30, 1956
Montgomery Bus Boycott


At this specially called meeting of the MIA executive board, King and the other leaders discuss two important matters: a bus seating compromise that falls short of their initial demands and the filing of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city and state bus segregation laws. King notes that “some of the ministers are getting weary, ” but after Rev. W. F. Alford expresses a desire to compromise, King warns, “if we went tonight and asked the people to get back on the bus, we would be ostracized. They wouldn’t get back.” He also reminds the board of their earlier decision to take legal action if the city renewed the bus company franchise and denied their own application for an MIA-sponsored jitney service. He and Fred D. Gray then explain the two lawsuits about to be filed in Montgomery federal district court.

Executive Board “Call” Meeting
Monday, January 30, 1956
11:00 A.M.-2:35 P.M.
Rev. M. L. King, presiding


This meeting was called because there are some “important issues to discuss rather than to hold off until Thursday.”

Rev. Alford—Said that he had been pondering over a proposal which was made to Rev. Binion by some of his “white friends” some weeks back. (apparently the exec. board rejected it then). Rev. Alford feels that it is “worthy of our studying it.” I think we should go back under those conditions.”

Rev. Binion— to the question as to of the nature of the proposal:

Mr. Nacrosie (his “white friend”) explained the proposal to him before the three N. ministers had been “hoodwinked” into a “compromise”. The City had decided that if N. would give W. the first two seats on the Jackson, Day and Cleveland St. routes, and on the rest of the routes give the first six seats to the W.—an agreement could be reached.

Mr. E. D. Nixon—Did the proposal of two seats mean the long seat plus the next two seats? Mr. Binion—“I don’t know.”

Mr. Nixon—If you talk about the first two seats, then that’s the same as before. We would be returning to the same conditions, and if we accept it we are “going to run into trouble” with the people who had been riding the bus. “If that’s what you’re doing to do, I don’t want to be here when you tell the people.”

Mr White—“This morning was the test.” The rain was pouring and “they still walked.” “If they don’t want to go back, I don’t see why we should decide otherwise. Folk just made too much sacrifice. I hold that we should go on to the end. I think we should stay just where we’re at.”

Rev. King—“I’ve seen along the way where some of the ministers are getting weary.” Says he won’t call names. “If you have that impression (that N. should go back {under same conditions] to the buses), we won’t ostracize you. We should “iron it out here” (exec. meetings) and “show wherein we shouldn’t go back.”

Rev. Alford—“There’s a time in the life of any crisis when you go ought to be reasonable; The parties concerned ought to “give and take”. If we can get two out of the three demands (Alford called them “concessions”), I think we ought to accept. We have no protection to give those people—our wives and daughters3 are not out there. We can arrive at some type of agreement that is pleasing even to us.”

Rev. King—“From my limited contact, if we went tonight and asked the people to get back on the bus, we would be ostracized. They wouldn’t get back.” We “shouldn’t give people the illusion that there are no sacrifices involved, that it could be ended soon. My intimidations are a small price to pay if victory can be won.” We “shouldn’t make the illusion that they won’t have to walk. I believe to the bottom of my heart that the majority of Negroes would ostracize us. They are willing” to walk.

Rev. King (changing the subject), “I think this is a basic point.”

We agreed that in the event the Chicago franchise was renewed and ours was rejected, we would go to court. Attorney Gray went to New York last week for a few days to discuss this whole problem with Thurgood Marshall and another lawyer.4 Att. Gray has drawn up two suits: 1) demanding that the segregation law of the City is null and void because it is unconstitutional; 2) in the process of litigation, all intimidation be outlawed. This joint suit is to be filed in the Federal Court this afternoon or tomorrow. We are in the process of drawing up a list of plaintiffs (those who can stand up under intimidation and who are not succeptible to losing their jobs) . So far we have Miss Colving, Miss Smith, Mrs. Reese, Mrs. Hamilton, and Mrs. McDonald.5 This suit on the City of Montgomery would go directly to the Federal Courts, but it would not be filed in the name of the Naacp.

Rev. King What are we to do for the people in the process of litigation? The court has 20 days to answer—don’t know how long the litigation would take.

Mr. Saye—Number 1, “issue an ultimatim {—giving a time limit} (leaving out goal 3) to the Commission stating our position to see what they would do; 2, we need to do that to have a point from which to prepare people to return to the buses. We need to train people to go back to the bus. “We would disgrace ourselves before the world if we give up now.”

Mr. Nixon—Hold people off the bus for the end of the 20 days, instructing them about going back to the bus. At least for the first 20 days from tomorrow keep them off the bus.

Rev. King—It is very important that this information does not leak out about the Naacp and the court action until its printed in the newspaper. We want to surprise the whites. Don’t mention the 20 days. Some liberal whites say that because of the stigma that has been put on the Naacp, its part in this should not be mentioned because of its effect on public sentiment. We should use the “legal structure of the Naacp,” but refer to the participants as “legal citizenry.”

Dr. Saye—Because we can’t settle this within the framework of the law, we should state publicly that we’re taking it to the Federal Court.

Rev. King—By the way, I’ve found out that the (N.} lady who was beat up by a N. man a few weeks {days} ago is the cook for the Mayor; she attends the mass meetings and tells the mayor what happened the next morning. We also found out that Sellers has let 3 N. prisoners attend the mass meetings so that they can tell him what has happened.

Att. Gray—about selection of plaintiffs:

I think it’s good strategy to have at least one minster, people of different ages, and people with different grievances. It’s not good strategy to have Rev. King because he’s too much in the “limelight.”

Rev. King—I think its very important in throwing sentiment our way if we have a minister as a plaintiff. Who (of 25 present) will volunteer? After discussion {of about 10 minutes} in which Rev. King said that he knew of many in the meeting who had been fined and otherwise intimidated, still no one would volunteer. Rev. King reiterated their stand on a policy of non-violence. It was suggested in this connection that we go “on record not to come to the rescue of people arrested for carrying concealed weapons.”

Rev. King—about lawyers fees.

Att. Gray (A. H. Langford not present)7 The branch Naacp made an agreement with me about a figure for my work for the Mrs. Parks Case. Explains that the retaining fee ($50/wk for each lawyer) covers anything that comes up other that court cases.

Rev. King I would ask this question even if A. H. Langford was here: Is it necessary to retain two lawyers?

Att. Gray-“I’ll leave while you discuss it.” (he leaves the room)

Dr. Saye-“I never did see the wisdom of hiring two lawyers.”


It was agreed that the lawyers be paid $500 (the figure the two lawyers had submitted) for their work from Dec. 11 to Jan. 4, and from that time retain the two lawyers at $50/wk. each until the case is filed in the Federal Court. They will then be paid a “general fee” which will be added to that fee paid by the branch Naacp (this money will come from collections at the meetings).

Each lawyer will be paid submit a bill for “services rendered” to get away from having to pay the retainer fee during or after court action. Announcement: Mass meeting tonight at 7: 00 p.m. at First Baptist Church.

Meeting ends with prayer.

1. R. B. Binion served on the MIA’s finance committee and was a trustee of the MIA. He was one of the ministers indicted during the boycott.

2. Ferron placed an asterisk after Cleveland and noted at the bottom of the page that Jackson, Day, and Cleveland Streets “are predominantly Negro used routes.”

3. Ferron placed an asterisk here and noted at the bottom of the page: “Rev. Bennett has referred to the masses of Negroes, those who had once ridden the buses, but who are now walking, as ‘those in the gutter.’”

4. Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), born in Baltimore, Maryland, earned his B.A. (1930) at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University and his L.L.B. (1933) at Howard University. In 1938 he became special counsel to the NAACP, and in 1950 he was named director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He headed the legal team that successfully argued the NAACP’s case in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In 1961 President Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Second Judicial Circuit. He was later appointed solicitor general before joining the Supreme Court in 1967.

5. The plaintiffs were Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, and Mary Louise Smith. Jeanatta Reese withdrew as a plaintiff, apparently out of fear. The successful lawsuit (Aurelia S. Browder v. William A. Gayle) challenging bus segregation was filed in U. S. District Court on 1 February, decided on 5 June, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on 13 November 1956.

6. Solomon S. Seay, Sr. (1889-1988), was raised in Macon County, Alabama, and studied at Alabama State College and Talladega College. He served AME Zion churches in Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee before becoming pastor of Montgomery’s Mt. Zion AME Zion Church (1947- 1962). Seay was a member of the MIA’s negotiating committee and, after King and Abernathy left Montgomery, served as the third president of the MIA. He was among those indicted for their role in the boycott. He also became a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) executive board member. His autobiography, I Was There by the Grace of God, was published in 1990.

7. Ferron refers to attorney Charles D. Langford.


PV-ARC, Preston Valien Collection, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, La.