by Michael Imhotep, TheMichaelImhotepShow.com
Tues. Dec. 1st, 2015, 11:30pm EST, Updated Dec. 3rd, 2015 10:17am EST
Today marks the 60th Anniversary of an event that many people cite as the beginning of the modern day Civil Rights Movement. It occurred on Dec. 1st, 1955 when a seamstress and Secretary for the NAACP, from the Montgomery Fair department named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a White man. These were the rules of Segregation in the South. Segregation was an oppressive, dehumanizing system that existed in Southern States. They were commonly called Jim Crow laws and we can see them being implemented after the Plessy vs. Ferguson case of 1896.
Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Ave. bus #2857 after finishing a shift as a seamstress. As the bus filled up, Parks and other African American passengers were asked to give up their seats once the “Whites Only” section filled up. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. She was arrested and fined $14. This was the 2nd encounter Rosa Parks had with the White male bus driver named James Blake. Mr. Blake had kicked Rosa Parks off of a bus many years prior to this day.
Violators of the Segregation Law before Rosa Parks
Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, 15 year old Claudette Colvin did the same thing on March 2, 1955. Her case was not pursued by the NAACP because she had assault charges against her even though some say the charges against her were ridiculous. She also became pregnant around the time of the incident. The NAACP wanted a pure case to pursue to test the Constitutionality of Segregation on the buses in Montgomery, AL. Claudette Colvin along with 3 other African American women, Aurelia S. Browder, Mary Louise Smith and Susie McDonald all had been arrested for violating the bus segregation law in Montgomery, AL prior to Rosa Parks. These 4 African American women were the plaintiffs in the landmark case of Browder v. Gayle case filed, Feb. 1st, 1956. This lawsuit was filed only 2 days after Dr. King’s house was firebombed by White segregationists. E.D. Nixon’s house was also fired bombed in early 1956 and Rosa Parks received numerous death threats. This case resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that bus segregation was unconstitutional on the buses in Montgomery, AL. Yes, the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott was necessary and successful but it DID NOT end Segregation on the buses in Montgomery.
Organizing The Montgomery Bus Boycott
When Rosa Parks contacted E.D. Nixon who was a past President of the local chapter of the NAACP began to call local black leaders, including Ralph Abernathy and Dr. King, to organize a planning meeting. On December 2nd, 1955, African American ministers and leaders met at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and agreed to publicize the December 5th boycott. The planned protest received unexpected publicity in the weekend newspapers and in radio and television reports. It was supposed to only be a 1 day Boycott. If you study the Civil Rights Movement you will find that if it had not been for African American media you could not have had a movement.
Joann Robinson was the President of the Women’s Political Council (WPC) which was one of the organizations involved in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. According to “Eyes On The Prize” Part 1 “Awakenings”, Joann Robinson said that the night before the bus boycott she did not sleep. She made the stencils for the flyers and ran off 35,000 copies. They were able to organize 40,000 people in 2 days with no cell phones, internet, facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube, email, text messaging, etc.
On December 5th, 1955, 90 percent of Montgomery’s African American citizens stayed off the buses. That 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 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was a 26 year old little known minister was elected president. He was reluctant to take the position and thought someone from Montgomery would be better suited.
Rosa Parks recalled: ‘‘The advantage of having Dr. King as president was that he was so new to Montgomery and to civil rights work that he hadn’t been there long enough to make any strong friends or enemies’’.
In his memoir, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about Rosa Parks that ‘‘Mrs. Parks was ideal for the role assigned to her by history,’’ and because ‘‘her character was impeccable and her dedication deep-rooted’’ she was ‘‘one of the most respected people in the Negro community.’’ as AtlantaBlackStar.com reported
At the meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, because there was overwhelming participation in the boycott, they voted to continue it. After unsuccessful talks with city commissioners and bus company officials, on December 8th, 1955 the MIA issued a formal list of demands: courteous treatment by bus operators; first-come, first-served seating for all, with African Americans seating from the rear and Whites from the front; and black bus operators on predominately black routes. The case of Browder vs. Gayle (Mayor William A. Gayle of Montgomery, Alabama was one of the defendants in addition to the Chief of Police, representatives from Montgomery’s Board of Commissioners, Montgomery City Lines, Inc., two bus drivers, and representatives of the Alabama Public Service Commission) went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and after appeals the decision came down on December 20th, 1956 that segregation on the buses was unconstitutional. The boycott lasted for 381 days but started as 1 day boycott. The next morning Dr. King, E.D. Nixon, Ralph Abernathy and Glen Smiley boarded an integrated bus.
It is important to note that the tactic of mass protests, economic boycotts and lawsuits would be used throughout the Civil Rights Movement. They had a 3 pronged strategy. Many people mistakenly think that it was the Bus Boycott that ended Segregation on the buses. This is why it is so important to study history to learn from what actually happened and how our ancestors did it so we can apply those lessons today. We can use some of these strategies along with the tools of today to “Redistribute The Pain” to those that inflict pain upon us.
In his last speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop” delivered on April 3rd, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal”. He also talked about the need to “redistribute the pain” when boycotting Corporate America. This means that when you have mass protests and marches, you also have to have Economic Boycotts to put pressure on your adversary. The mass protest draw attention to the problem, galvanize support around the issue so you can then bring people into your plan of action. The Economic Boycotts hurt the opposition economically and causes them to be open to negotiating with you. You are communicating with them in a language that they understand.
“What you do for yourself, what you do to your and what you allow other people to do to you is based upon what you think about yourself. What you think about yourself is based upon what you have been taught about yourself. What you have been taught about yourself is based upon everything you have read, seen and heard about yourself.” – Michael Imhotep
Michael Imhotep is a talk show host, researcher, lecturer, writer and founder of The African History Network. He is the host of The Michael Imhotep Show on The Empowerment Radio Network and can be heard Monday-Friday, 10pm-12midnight EST on www.TuneIn.com or the TuneIn Radio App and search for “Empowerment Radio Network”. Visit his website www.AfricanHistoryNetwork.com for more information about his lectures, DVDs, our history and podcasts of the show.
You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelImhotep and his Facebook FanPage, “The African History Network”. He is available for interviews and lectures. He is a strong advocate of African Americans reclaiming their history, culture and controlling the economics, education and politics in our community. He is featured in the upcoming documentary, “Black Friday” which deals with African Americans controlling our $1.2 Trillion economy and creating intergenerational wealth. Visit www.AfricanHistoryNetwork.com for more information.