Several years after the Brown decision, a former NAACP secretary, Rosa Parks, was arrested, imprisoned, and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to relinquish her bus seat to a white man. This incident prompted blacks in Montgomery, Alabama to organize against the city government and its Jim Crow system, and to boycott the bus company.
Civil-Rights Activists Change Direction and Use Nonviolent Teachings of Mohandas Gandhi
“Montgomery signaled the end of reliance on litigation as the major strategy of civil-rights activists and accelerated the use of nonviolent direct action to test and supplement laws.”
Black ministers all across Montgomery were contacted to assist in the boycott. A minister from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was called upon to lead the boycott. This minister would become the guiding spirit of the black right’s movement throughout the 60s. He was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Furthermore, the NAACP felt that the Parks’ case was one that could be brought up to the Supreme Court in order to test the legality of segregation [laws] on public facilities.
Dr. King was Unanimously Elected President of the MIA
With the success of the one-day boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed to be the permanent committee that would plan and carry out a longer boycott. Dr. King was unanimously elected president of the MIA. The MIA had three demands. First blacks would get courteous treatment on busses; second, bus seating would be on a first-come, first-serve basis; and third, black bus drivers would drive on predominantly black routes.
The MIA threatened to continue with the boycotts, unless the demands were all met. The segregationists were angered by the situation and retaliated. Dr. King’s home was bombed, and his wife and infant daughter narrowly escaped!
The boycott dragged on, and armed with the nonviolent teachings of Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. King was able to keep sagging spirits up. “On February 1, 1956, Fred Gray (of the MIA) filed suit in the United States District Court, challenging the constitutionality of bus segregation. In June, the suit was victorious, but it was appealed. On November 13, 1956, the United States Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.
So, on December 20, 1956, blacks were allowed to board Montgomery’s city buses.”. The success of the Montgomery boycott encouraged others to try this method as a means of achieving similar goals.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was Formed to Continue the Fight for Civil-Rights
An informed organization arose out of the network of Southern churches that had supported the Montgomery bus boycott. On January 10th and 11th, 1957, a meeting was called in Atlanta, Georgia. Ministers from eleven Southern states met at Martin Luther King Sr. ‘s Ebenezer Baptist Church. The ministers decided that they needed to establish a formal organization to continue the struggle for civil rights.It was felt that they needed an organization similar to the NAACP, except it would be called a “Christian organization.
Thus, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was born. Dr. King was elected its president and Ralph Abernathy was elected treasure. Dr. King’s first task was to contact and coordinate his efforts with other civil-rights organizations. With the help of Roy Wilkins (from the NAACP) and Asa Randolph, Dr. King planned a march on Washington to emphasize the need for civil-rights legislation.
The “sit-in” movement began on February 1, 1960, when four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical college at Greensboro, sat down at the segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s and were refused service. The counter was shut down, and the students removed, but armed with nonviolent passive techniques, the students kept returning. The Greensboro sit-in was a spring board for future sit-in movements around the country.
“These sit-ins were student centered and led, and were utilized to test segregation in eating places. Although students played a major role in testing segregation laws, they were not the only group willing to fight for their liberties. A group of older folks called the freedom riders, tested segregation laws concerned with public transportation.
Then, in November of 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President of the United States. Kennedy represented fresh and youthful ideas. His inaugural speech inspired many young people to become active in their country. Indeed, it was the American youth who brought the civil-rights issues to the forefront and launched an era known as “The Movement.”
CORE Challenges Jim Crow Laws Regarding Interstate Travel
Even though the Interstate Commerce Commission (in 1955) had ruled against segregation of interstate travelers, and the Supreme Court (in 1956) decreed that segregation on public transportation was unlawful, the practice continued. In May 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) decided to challenge Jim Crow laws in travel. On May 4th, thirteen CORE representatives boarded a bus that was to take them from Washington to New Orleans.
Upon reaching Birmingham, Alabama, they were met with violence and forced to fly the rest of the way. Their ordeal evoked sympathy from church groups, the media, and others. Groups of riders quickly formed, and it became increasingly easier for blacks to sit in buses and bus stations. Finally, at the request of U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations that ended segregated facilities in interstate bus stations.
Giving African-Americans the Right to Vote Set them on the Road to Equality
Voter registration was paramount in bringing power to a people and thus securing their civil-rights. “Of pivotal importance was that the White House was eager to back voter registration. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all professed the view that blacks having the vote would be the most effective means of their achieving equality.” The fight for voter registration, overseen by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was taken to Mississippi.
Here the SNCC members and others involved endured beatings, bombingsand death to achieve their goals. Their tireless fervor spread to other states like wildfire. As sympathy for the cause increased, a loose alliance among the major organizations formed and mobilized itself in the August 1963 March on Washington. This gathering of a half-million souls demonstrated to congress that public opinion was on the side of desegregation and voting rights.
In October 1963, a wide ranging civil-rights bill was produced by the House Judiciary Committee. It prohibited discrimination in public facilities and employment and strengthened guarantees of black voting rights. The bill became law on July 2, 1964 when it was signed by president Johnson, becoming the most sweeping civil-rights measure since Reconstruction.
Lest we forget, history can repeat itself, so we must all be ever vigilant to the pitfalls of complacency. There are those who use racism to manipulate the mindset of the unemployed and under-employed in order to divert attention away from the real reasons why America’s economy is in trouble. This sort of mean-spirited rhetoric if not replaced by sober dialogue will only serve to subvertthe gains we havemade in race relations and bring on the destruction of our country.