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The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Footsteps Towards Equality

Written by Sarya Gulec

In the 20th century, Montgomery-Alabama was a city deeply entrenched in racial segregation. In public buses, black citizens had to sit in “the black part,” the back of the bus and had to give their seats to whites if the front seats were full. However, in December 1955, a brave woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat and got arrested, starting the Montgomery bus boycott.

The residents in Montgomery were politically organized long before Rosa Parks’ arrested, though. For instance, since 1946, the Women’s Political Council(WPC) had been lobbying for racial equality for a decade before the bus boycott. Likewise, Montgomery had an active branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where Parks also worked as a secretary. (1)

Even though Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her seat to a white passenger, local civil rights leaders decided to use her arrest to challenge the local segregation laws. Shortly after Parks’ arrest, a leader of WPC, Jo Ann Robinson, and the president of the local NAACP, E.D. Nixon, printed and distributed leaflets describing Parks’s arrest and called for a one-day boycott of the city buses on December 5. Since the bus system depended on African American drivers, they believed the boycott could be effective. Around 75 percent of the bus users were black, so the bus companies’ profits shrank.

That day, 90 percent of the black residents of Montgomery stayed off the buses, and in the 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 formed and Martin Luther King Jr. was elected president.

The Montgomery bus boycott was 13 months long and a huge sacrifice. Some people lost their jobs for supporting the boycott, such as Rosa Parks, and some leaders, such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, were violently attacked by white supremacists and mistreated by the police. In early 1956, the homes of King and E. D. Nixon were bombed.


The MIA encouraged black taxi drivers to charge the same as the bus; however, the city began to penalize black taxi drivers for aiding the boycotters. After that, the MIA organized carpools. Following the advice of T. J. Jemison, who had organized a carpool during a 1953 bus boycott in Baton Rouge, the MIA developed an intricate carpool system of about 300 cars. (2)

On 5 June 1956, the federal district court decided that bus segregation was unconstitutional, and in November 1956, the U.S. The Supreme Court affirmed and struck down laws requiring segregated seating on public buses. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, and on 20 December 1956, King called for the boycott’s end. The community agreed, and the next morning, he boarded an integrated bus with Ralph Abernathy, E. D. Nixon, and Glenn Smiley. King said of the bus boycott: “We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So… we decided to substitute tired feet for tired souls and walk the streets of Montgomery.” (2)

King's participation in the bus boycott attracted attention from across the globe, and the MIA's strategies of uniting large-scale nonviolent action with Christian principles served as a template for opposing segregation in the South.


  1. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2013, December 29). Montgomery bus boycott.

  2. Montgomery bus boycott. (n.d.). The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

  3. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott - Fighting for civil rights - Edexcel - GCSE history revision - Edexcel - BBC bitesize. (2023, April 6). BBC Bitesize.


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