Montgomeryâ€” How does one account for the boycott of city buses carried on for four months by the 40,000 Negro residents of Montgomery, Alabama? Although â€˜the Cradle Confederacyâ€™ has grown in recent years. nothing makes it seem other than a sleepy Southern town. No new industries have altered its landscape; it leeches off two air-force bases near the city limits. A venerable family controls the political strings; Negro voters number a pitiful 1,600. The Shinto worship of ancestors as in no other place in the region, except perhaps S. C., and the Negro community bears the surnames of white aristocracyâ€”symbolizing a racial relation that remained substantially unaltered from slavery days.
Then what happened? Was the boycott an NAACP â€˜plotâ€™? Although virtually all of the boycott spokesmen are NAACP members, one has said that the organization â€˜looked downâ€™ on the protest at its outset because it did seek integration. The boycottersâ€™ original main demand drafted at a mass meeting the night of December for racial division of passengers on a first-come, first-serve basis. This is the arrangement in effect in most cities.
Two decades of mistreatment provided the fodder for the protest. Every Negro who boarded a bus stood a good chance of being abused. Drivers, under cover of enforcing segregation statutes, constantly yanked up Negro passengers to provide seats for late-coming whites. They passed by Negroes waiting at stops. Negroes were required to pay at the front door and then get on at the rear, so that drivers sometimes took their fares and drove off without them. Drivers even carried pistols in their cash boxes to â€˜settleâ€™ disputes over change and transfers. Year after year delegations of Negroes called on city and transit-line officials, asking better treatment. They received nothing, not even a courteous audience, because the white fathers thought that the bulk of the Negro population was hopelessly dependent on transit service. â€˜You would think that since we were their best customers, theyâ€™d try to please us a little,â€™ a Negro stenographer commented bitterly. â€˜But they wanted it easy. They wanted our money and wanted to beat on us, too. I have just put them out of my mind. I can keep walking forever.â€™
THE incident that touched off things happened simply and spontaneously. It was not a test case. On the night of December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a seamstress at a Montgomery department store, was returning home from work. She boarded the bus that would take her to the public-housing project where she lived. She was carrying a sack of groceries, bursitis racked her shoulders, and she was dead-tired. She sat near the front of the Negro section. After a few minutes she heard the driver order her to move to the backâ€”where there were no seats vacant. She looked up and saw a white man waiting to claim her place. She didnâ€™t move. The driver again called out. She still didnâ€™t move. The driver then stopped the bus, announcing that he was going for the police. For thirty minutes the passengers remained in the halted vehicle. No one got out, no oneâ€”white or Negroâ€”spoke to her. â€˜It was the longest time of my life,â€™ Mrs. Parks recalls. The police came and she was booked for violating the segregation ordinanceâ€”although the law specifically states that the driver can only reassign passengers if there are other seats available.
E. D. Nixon, sleeping-car porter who is president of his union local, put up her bond. … …