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Dr. Martin Luther King and the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott

CHARLENE CROWELL | 1/21/2019, 1:19 p.m.
Although America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution are premised on the principles of democracy, the historical treatment of America’s citizens ...
Ministers Ralph D. Abernathy (left front), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (second seat, left), Glenn Smiley of New York (second seat, right) and an unidentified woman – because women were not acknowledged during that time period – were among the first to ride a public bus after a long boycott of segregated buses, Dec. 21, 1956, when the Supreme Court's integration order went into effect in Montgomery, Alabama. Associated Press

• Treat Negroes with greater courtesy.

• Hire Negro drivers for Negro routes.

• Desegregate bus seating.

In response, White negotiators insisted on racially segregated seating and active negotiations soon stalled.

With the Christmas shopping season fast approaching, King proposed that instead of traditional gift shopping, Montgomery Negroes should rally to the original meaning of the season and refuse to shop at all. Monies set aside for gifts was proposed to be divided three ways among savings account, charity donations and gifts to the MIA.

By January 1956, Montgomery’s bus company advised city commissioners that the loss of revenues had led to the likelihood of bankruptcy. In reaction, the mayor and the White Citizens Council called for White residents to stop using their private cars and ride city buses instead. When fare revenues did not improve, a fare hike was approved.

That same month, the city’s daily paper, the Montgomery Advertiser, began running news reports on the bus boycott. The first article, printed Jan. 10, suggested that a White Lutheran minister was responsible for nearly 350 daily care rides and raising $7,000 to support the ongoing protest. However, a follow-up report on Jan. 19 appeared with the headline, Rev. King is Boycott Boss.

On a tip from Carl Rowan, one of the few Black journalists of that time, King was alerted in late January to a Sunday news article that was to announce the end the boycott. The article was to claim that Negroes would return to the buses the following business day. King advised Rowan that he knew of nothing in that regard.

For more than a year, Montgomery’s 30,000 Black residents walked, hitchhiked, bicycled, taxied and used every means of transportation except the city’s buses. Black taxi companies reduced regular rates to the same 10 cents charged by the bus company. As time went on, cab fares returned to the regular 45 cents.

On Feb. 1, 1956, the MIA filed a lawsuit in federal district court. Four months later, on June 2, the federal court declared that segregated bus seating was unconstitutional. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

On Dec. 20, 1956, the order to integrate buses was served on Montgomery’s officials. The next day, King was the first Black person to ride the newly integrated buses.

In the year of the boycott, the transit company reportedly lost $250,000 in revenues. Moreover, the city lost thousands of additional dollars in taxes. Montgomery retail merchants estimated their losses to be in the millions.

King’s long battle to end segregation had just begun. In January 1957, he was named chairman of the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration – later renamed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In May 1957, he delivered his first national address, Give Us the Ballot, during the Prayer Pilgrimage of Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A year later, he wrote his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, which chronicles the people and events that took place during the bus boycott.

He went on to write five more books, deliver over 2,500 speeches, and led several marches and other demonstrations in the fight for equality and justice during the Civil Rights Movement.

Reprinted from January 2011. Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this report.