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"Statement of Negro Citizens on Bus Situation"

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Montgomery Improvement Association)
Montgomery Bus Boycott


Two days after the deadlocked talks on 8 December, King and the MIA submitted this statement to their adversaries and the press. The next day the Montgomery Advertiser quoted portions of it, attributed to King, in a front-page article. The bus company had argued that Alabama law required segregation; King and the MIA, however, cite the relevant statute and argue that it authorized such a policy but did not require it. They also point out that Rosa Parks was charged with violating the state law because the Montgomery City Code did not require a black person to relinquish a seat unless another one was available in the part of the bus reserved for African Americans. The MIA argues that the state law was flexible enough to permit the group's proposed seating arrangement, which would not eliminate bus segregation.

We have heretofore stated the position of the Negro Citizens of Montgomery with reference to the local bus situation. As good citizens we want to comply with the law until the law is changed or is over-ruled. However, we feel that we have the right to insist that the law be fairly administered.

In answer to our request that the Montgomery City Lines adopt a policy of loading busses from rear to front with colored passengers and from front to rear with white passengers and that all passengers be permitted to retain their seats on a “first come—first served” basis, without reservation of seats for any particular race, the bus company contends that such an arrangement would be in violation of the law and particularly the Act of July 18, 1947, (General Acts of Alabama, 194.7, #130, Page 40).

In answer to this contention we would like to call attention to the pertinent provision of Section 1, of this Act, which reads as follows:

“Section 1. All passenger stations in this state operated by or for the use of any motor transportation company shall be authorized to provide separate waiting rooms, facilities, or space, or separate ticket windows, for the white and colored races but such accommodations for the races shall be equal. All motor transportation companies and operators of vehicles, carrying passengers for hire in this state, whether intrastate or interstate passengers, are authorized and empowered to provide separate accommodations on each vehicle for the white and colored races. Any officer or agent of such motor transportation company or operator, in charge of any vehicle, is authorized to assign or reassign each passenger or person to a division, section or seat on the vehicle designated by such company or operator or by such officer or agent for the race to which the passenger or person belongs . . . ” (italics supplied).

We believe that this Act was not intended to apply to busses operating within a single municipality, but only to those under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission. However, it should be noted that under the provisions quoted the method of handling the seating of passengers is left entirely to the transportation companies themselves. They are authorized and empowered to provide separate accommodations but are not directed or required to take any action whatsoever.

The Legislature, it seems clear, wisely left it up to the transportation companies to work out the seating problem in a reasonable and practical way, subject to the limitations of reasonableness and equality of treatment to all passengers, regardless of race.

It should be further noted that even under the City Code of Montgomery (Chapter 6, Section 10 and 11) no person, white or colored, can be required to give up a seat unless there is a vacant seat in the portion of the bus to which the passenger is assigned.1

We feel that there is no issue between the Negro citizens and the Montgomery City Lines that cannot be solved by negotiations between people of good will and we submit that there is no legal barrier to such negotiations.

Respectfully submitted,
M. L. King, President

1. Section 604 of the Montgomery City Code reads: “All operators and other employees while in charge of busses are hereby invested with the police power of a police officer of said City, to carry out said provisions, and any passenger refusing or failing to take a seat among those assigned to the race to which he belongs—if there is such seat vacant—at the request of the conductor or employee in charge of said bus, shall, upon conviction, be fined not less than one nor more than one hundred dollars” (The Code of Ordinances of the City of Montgomery [Montgomery: Wilson Printing Co., 1938], p. 217).


RGP-INP, Robert Graetz Papers, In Private Hands.