59 years ago today the Montgomery Bus boycott began and lasted 381 days. Between 30,000 to 40,000 African Americans boycotted the metropolitan bus company in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks because she refused to give up her seat to a white person. 30,000 to 40,000 African American residents of Montgomery walked to work, biked to work, carpooled to work to prevent the bus company from reaping any profits from them. Some rode mules or horse-drawn carriages. People hitchhiked. Cabbies gave rides for a dime. White women picked up their domestics to get them to work. Just over a year later, the Supreme Court decision in Brouder v Gayle (1956) announced that segregated Montgomery buses were unconstitutional. African-American citizens returned to the buses on a non-segregational basis.
There’s an important lesson here about resiliency and steadfastness, about a community’s perseverance and commitment to social justice. There’s a lesson to all of us as we contemplate our responses to the latest injustices we have witnessed.
And then, two days after the boycott was called off, a shotgun was fired through the front door of Martin Luther King’s home. A black teenager was attacked by white men as she exited a bus on Christmas eve. Later that week, snipers fired on buses including injuring a pregnant African American woman in both of her legs. The following January, five black churches were bombed, as well as the home of a white minister who supported the boycott. A few weeks after that, the KKK lynched a black man, Willie Edwards. The men (members of the KKK) who did the firebombing were arrested but easily acquitted at trial. The Alabama Supreme Court refused to overturn Martin Luther King’s and 29 others’ appeals of their convictions for their role in the boycott . In March, strong Jim Crow legislation was passed making almost any contact between the races illegal. Rosa Parks left Montgomery due to death threats and employment blacklisting. The journalist Charles Silberman said, “by 1963, most Negroes in Montgomery had returned to the old custom of riding in the back of the bus.”
So easy to see how rage and frustration and violence and hopelessness can replace perseverance, patience, and resiliency.