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Section 1: Document Question
Section 2: Ireland
Section 3: Europe and the World
Essay Skills

Sample: Case Study 1: The Montgomery bus boycott, 1956

 

CASE STUDY 1: THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT, 1949 – 89


Background

    • In the 1950s, 40% of the population of Montgomery, Alabama was black, but the city was heavily racially segregated
    • In 1952, a black teenager named Jeremiah Reeves was executed when an all-white jury found him guilty of raping a white woman in Montgomery
    • Black women in Montgomery were regularly targeted by white rapists and murderers, and these criminals never faced justice, prompting many people to come to the conclusion that the Montgomery legal system was actively discriminating against the black community
    • It was forbidden in Montgomery for black people to hold public office and as a result, 48% of black men either worked in manual labour or in domestic service, where they were entitled to only half the average white wage
      • 63% of black women also worked in domestic service
    • Black people were only allowed to sit at the very back on buses, were not allowed to sit next to white passengers, and were required to give up their seats for white people if the bus was full
    • Despite the fact that 70% of Montgomery bus passengers were black, only white people could be bus drivers, and they would regularly abuse their black passengers
    • If somebody broke the bus segregation laws, they could be arrested – many young black women including teenagers Mary-Louise Smith and Claudette Colvin were arrested for refusing to give up their seats

 

The Bus Boycott

    • On December 1st 1955, a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus, leading to her arrest
    • As Parks worked as the secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, Edgar Daniel Nixon of the Alabama NAACP agreed to pay her bail and represent her in court
    • Nixon turned to Reverends Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King for support in fighting the case
    • The black community in Montgomery also rallied to support Parks and Jo-Ann Robinson, leader of the Women’s Political Committee, called for a bus boycott on December 5th, the day of Parks’ appearance in court
    • On December 2nd, Nixon, King and Abernathy, concerned about threats of violence towards white bus drivers, organised a meeting at which 40 leaders in the black community agreed to support a peaceful boycott
    • Thousands of leaflets were then circulated among the black community in the city, asking people to refuse to take the bus to work, black preachers spoke about the boycott in their sermons and black taxi drivers offered bus-fare prices to their black passengers
    • On December 5th, the boycott began and buses which were usually packed with black people on their way to work were left empty
    • Parks was found guilty in court, prompting Nixon to request an appeal
    • The Montgomery Improvement Association was founded to oversee the running of the boycott, and they elected Martin Luther King as their leader
    • The MIA made the decision to continue the boycott, originally planned to only last a day, until bus segregation and racism from the bus company towards black passengers were brought to an end
    • King set up the Transportation Committee to help black people find other ways of getting to and from work, and called on black teachers, religious leaders and businessmen to fundraise for the cause
    • On December 8th, King met the mayor of Montgomery, Tacky Gayle, and representatives from the bus company in the hopes of finding a solution but the bus company refused to make the necessary changes and the mayor did not take the boycott seriously
    • Mayor Gayle joked that black people would go back to taking the bus when it started to rain, and when this did not happen, he attacked the boycotters and accused them of being communists

 

The white community and the boycott

    • Some white people in Montgomery helped the cause by fundraising and by organising taxis and carpooling
    • Most well-off white housewives organised transportation for their domestic servants, as they were not willing to do their own housework
    • When white people realised that the boycott wasn’t coming to an end, they started trying to discredit the MIA by starting rumours that King had been using money raised for the MIA to buy a new car
      • King offered to resign to put an end to these rumours but the MIA refused to let him go
    • On January 22nd 1956, the city released a false announcement of a settlement in an attempt to end the boycott but King immediately told the black community to continue the boycott
    • In a further attempt to force an end to the boycott, the police started arresting anyone seen to be driving around black passengers
    • Any black people found to be waiting for lifts on the street were also arrested for loitering and King was arrested on charges of speeding, but was released in response to huge protests outside the jail
    • In February, 89 black leaders were arrested on the grounds that they broke an old law that outlawed boycotts and several days later, once King returned from an event, he was also arrested again
    • The Ku Klux Klan in Montgomery began to patrol the streets, setting off bombs in black churches, beating up innocent black people, making threats to boycott leaders and destroying cars used for carpooling
    • On January 30th, King’s house was bombed and he received a phonecall threatening to ‘blow your brains out and blow up your house’ but King refused to leave Montgomery

 

Boycott continues

    • The NAACP in Alabama successfully convinced federal judges to declare Alabama’s bus laws as unconstitutional but Montgomery lawyers launched a Supreme Court appeal
    • On October 30th, Montgomery authorities branded the carpooling system as a public nuisance, and sued the leaders of the MIA for damages
    • On November 13th, the city brought the MIA to court and demanded they pay $15,000 but at the same time, news came out that the Supreme Court had deemed Alabama’s bus laws unconstitutional and so the case was abandoned
    • On November 14th, the end of the boycott was announced, but boycotters were asked to continue until the Supreme Court ruling was implemented, which they did for several weeks
    • The ruling was enforced on December 21st and on the first day of segregation-free buses, Martin Luther King and a white minister named Glenn Smiley sat next to each other at the front of a bus

 

Aftermath of the boycott

    • The boycott lasted 381 days and had cost the MIA $225,000, causing the bus company to lose $250,000
    • After the boycott, in protest against the new laws, a small group of white people attempted to set up their own white-only bus service
    • After the Supreme Court ruling, 40 cars full of KKK members drove through Montgomery, terrorising black residents, and firing bullets into buses
    • Bombs were set off in Reverend Abernathy’s house and church
    • The KKK were declared ‘un-Christian’ by white religious leaders
    • The boycott was the first peaceful mobilisation of African-Americans in the 20th Century, and set the precedent for later civil rights campaigns