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World House Podcast: Episode 6- MBB Part 2; Desegregation at Last

Jun 8 2020

In this episode we are going to discuss the events of 1956 in Montgomery, where the bus boycott unfolded. On 5 December 1955, most of Montgomery's black citizens stayed off the local buses. That afternoon, the city's ministers and leaders met to discuss the possibility of extending the boycott into a long-term campaign. During this meeting, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was founded, and King was elected president. The same evening, King delivered his first speech as the spokesman of the MIA, at the Holt Street Baptist Church. The MIA formulated a list of demands: courteous treatment by bus operators; first-come, first-served seating for all, with blacks seating from the rear and whites from the front; and black bus operators on predominately black routes.

As the city commissioners and bus company officials refused to meet the demands, Montgomery's black residents stayed off the buses through 1956, despite continuous harassment and city officials' efforts to defeat the boycott. In response to the city's penalizing of black taxi drivers for aiding the boycotters, the MIA developed a carpool system of about 300 cars.

In late January of 1956, the homes of King and E. D. Nixon were bombed. However, King was able to calm the crowd that gathered after the explosion at his home and urged them to remain nonviolent. In February, the city officials obtained an injunction against the boycott and indicted over 80 boycott leaders under a 1921 law prohibiting boycotts against businesses. King was tried and convicted on the charge and ordered to pay $500 or serve 386 days in jail in the case State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr. Despite all the difficulties, the boycott continued.

National coverage of the boycott and King's trial draw support from people outside Montgomery. In early 1956 Bayard Rustin and Glenn E. Smiley came to Montgomery and advised King on the Gandhian techniques of nonviolence.

In the spring of 1956, Fred Gray filed a lawsuit that challenged Alabama state laws mandating segregation on buses; On 5 June 1956, the federal district court ruled in Browder v. Gayle that bus segregation was unconstitutional. On 13 November, when King was in the courthouse being tried on the legality of the boycott’s carpools, a reporter notified him of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions; while the carpool was outlawed, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Browder v. Gayle and struck down laws requiring segregated seating on public buses. The Montgomery Bus Boycott ended on 20 December 1956. King's role in the bus boycott catapulted him into the international spotlight. King's commitment to nonviolent protest combined with Christian ethics became the model for challenging segregation in the South.

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Clayborne Carson, Liberation Curriculum