America honors Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 17th. He was one of the country's most important and revered leaders in its ongoing drive for civil rights equality. Dr. King became an international leader when he was the spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, which ultimately sought the desegregation of city buses.
At the time, Montgomery buses had a 'white' seating section. African-Americans had to pay their bus fares at the front of the bus and then re-enter through the bus' back door. They also couldn't sit across the aisle from a white person in the same row of seats. Drivers could order African-American riders to stand and give their seats to white riders and arrest anyone who refused.
Rosa Parks, a seamstress at a department store and a secretary in the Montgomery NAACP office, refused to give up her seat in December 1955 and helped launch the modern civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders decided to attack segregation not only through the bus boycott, but also in court. In February 1956, Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louis Smith filed a federal lawsuit against Montgomery's mayor challenging the legality of bus segregation. Civil rights attorney Fred Gray represented them.
The African-American community refused to ride the segregated buses and instead walked to work - sometimes miles every day. They organized car pools for each other. Taxi drivers charged riders the same fare as a bus ticket. Churches used station wagons to drive people where they needed to go. Day after day, the buses stayed largely empty. All the while, the federal court case made its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The boycott lasted over a year, and the municipal bus company lost over 30,000 fares every day. Even so, the bus company refused to desegregate their buses until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Alabama bus segregation laws unconstitutional in 1956 in Browder vs.Gayle. The bus boycott started the modern American civil rights movement and introduced Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the world, a civil rights leader committed to non-violent resistance.(Sources for this blog post included websites for U.S. National Park Service, the King Center, Actipedia, Wikipedia, and the History Channel.)