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On This Day: Montgomery Bus Boycott Ends After City Integrates Its Buses

Nicole Rojas
Dec 21, 2020 - 3:20

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The North Star’s series, “On This Day,” highlights significant moments in history. Today, Dec. 21, marks the 64th anniversary of the end of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, and the racial integration of the bus system. The Montgomery bus boycott, which used the successful Baton Rouge bus boycott of 1953 as its blueprint, ended after 381 days.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began on December 5, 1955, saw Black Americans in Montgomery refusing to ride city buses to protest segregated seating. The boycott began just four days after Rosa Parks, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.

But Parks was not the first Black Montgomery resident to be arrested for refusing to move for a white passenger. 

Just nine months prior, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested in the same situation. Colvin was ordered to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat for a white passenger. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Colvin refused, telling the bus driver that it was her “constitutional right” to remain in her seat. 

Colvin was removed from the bus and arrested. While Black leaders planned to protest, they abandoned those plans when they discovered Colvin was pregnant and thus deemed the wrong symbol for the cause, History.com reported.

The boycott was launched by the Women’s Political Council (WPC), a group of Black women civil rights activists, on the day of Parks’ trial. WPC President Jo Ann Robinson capitalized on Parks’ arrest and printed leaflets to publicize the boycott. The organization also reached out to the NAACP and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) for help. 

An estimated 40,000 Black bus riders participated in the bus boycott on the first day. Black civil rights leaders met and elected Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as president of the MIA.

The group decided to continue the boycott until the city met its demands. To help, local leaders organized carpools and the city’s Black taxi drivers charged Black riders just 10 cents, which was the same as the bus fare.

Eventually, five Montgomery women sued the city in federal court to abolish the busing segregation laws. A Montgomery federal court ruled on June 5, 1956, that bus segregation laws violated the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizens of all races equal rights and equal protection under state and federal laws.

The city of Montgomery appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision on December 20, 1956. A day later the city’s buses were integrated and the boycott ended. Unfortunately, integration was met with resistance and violence, including the bombing of four Black churches and homes of prominent Black leaders in January 1957.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe.

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