60 Years After Boycott, Using Montgomery Bus Can Be Trying

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Mineola Dozier Smith, 94, recalls witnessing arrest of Rosa Parks on Montgomery bus in 1955, which helped spark movement to end segregation in South.

Slowly, the images started coming back to her — the crowded bus, the hostile driver, the quiet woman whose act of defiance galvanized the civil rights movement.Sixty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was arrested for disobeying Montgomery, Alabama’s segregation ordinance. They would just beat you like you was a dog or a cat,” Smith told the Daily News in her most extensive interview to date. “I was a little bit afraid. The Womens’ Political Council (WPC), a group of black professionals founded in 1946, had already turned their attention to Jim Crow practices on the Montgomery city buses.

But the Lord had the right person, in the right place, at the right time.” There was the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, the lawsuit challenging discrimination on public transportation and finally the Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation on buses. The real heroes behind Rosa Parks were the NAACP lawyers who battered down the walls of institutional racism with the force of the constitution, color-blind law, and capitalist forces that worked against racism—hallmarks of the classical liberal tradition of civil rights. Parks herself became a civil rights icon, credited with inspiring the decade-long movement that culminated in the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. In a pair of interviews over consecutive days, the Montgomery native described in remarkable detail the incident that provided her a front-row seat to history.

Gayle in March 1954, the council’s members outlined the changes they sought for the city’s bus system: no one standing over empty seats; a decree that black individuals not be made to pay at the front of the bus and enter from the rear; and a policy that would require buses to stop at every corner in black residential areas, as they did in white communities. Therefore, as virulent white racism swept the South in the 1890s, cities passed ordinances requiring private bus companies to create separate sections for blacks and whites. In 1955, Montgomery’s racially segregated buses carried 30,000 to 40,000 blacks each day. (AP Photo/Daily Advertiser) “I could tell he was upset because he hit his pocket like he was reaching for a gun,” Smith said. “But he looked like, ‘Aww.

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.” Robinson and the WPC responded to Parks’ arrest by calling for a one-day protest of the city’s buses on 5 December 1955. In short, the economic logic of market capitalism favored nondiscrimination (money is colorblind) while state governments mandated segregation—and enforced this mandate with the strong muscle of police power. Nixon, past leader of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), began to call local black leaders, including Ralph Abernathy and King, to organize a planning meeting. In Virginia, the state law deputized the bus drivers themselves as “special policemen.” Similarly, Montgomery bus drivers were armed with guns and police power. (Although in Rosa Parks’ case, the driver called the regular police to carry her to jail). There were other blacks who were arrested for refusing to relinquish their bus seats — other women even — but news of Parks’ case rocketed around the black neighborhoods and lit a fuse. “It looked funny all these buses running all over Montgomery, and nobody on them,” Smith said. “We walked and we walked.

An excerpt from Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader offers one railway lawyer’s effort to explain that such ordinances were a nuisance to everyone regardless of race: “Every thoughtful man . . . will realize the difficulties presented, not only to the Railway company, but to the traveling public, in reaching a practical solution of the question. We said we didn’t care how long it takes, we’re going to walk until justice is done.” “We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity,” King told the packed crowd as he called for the boycott to continue. “And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality.” An appeal filed by Parks’ lawyer got tied up in the courts. Donna Beisel, a scheduling specialist at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, said Smith is the only living person known to the institution who witnessed Parks’ arrest. “You can read about what happened on the bus,” Beisel said. “But to actually listen to someone who was there gives you a deeper sense of what really happened.” Ten years later, Smith still can’t fully wrap her head around how such a gentle, humble woman played such a key role in securing rights for African-Americans. “She was one of the sweetest, kindest, most respectful ladies I’ve ever known,” Smith said before referencing the second-class treatment faced by blacks in the 1950s.

Delays are insufferable to the busy man. . . .A passenger hurrying from his home to his business at a remote point would deem it intolerable to be passed simply because the seats of the car are filled when plenty of standing room remains in the aisle or between the seats. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.” After unsuccessful talks with city commissioners and bus company officials, on 8 December the MIA issued a formal list of demands: courteous treatment by bus operators; first-come, first-served seating for all, with blacks seating from the rear and whites from the front; and black bus operators on predominately black routes.

The demands were not met, and Montgomery’s black residents stayed off the buses through 1956, despite efforts by city officials and white citizens to defeat the boycott. In 1955, the company had a city-sanctioned monopoly and no reason to challenge the city ordinance, which earlier years of failed opposition had rendered futile. Robert Hughes and others from the Alabama Council for Human Relations organized meetings between the MIA and city officials, but no agreements were reached.

Few people remember that the boycott failed, while a lawsuit secured victory. (The plaintiffs did not include Rosa Parks; her case was bogged down in state court. Although most of the publicity about the protest was centered on the actions of black ministers, women played crucial roles in the success of the boycott. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” An aide to NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall recalled “Marshall’s favorite quotation was, ‘Our Constitution is color-blind.’ It became our basic creed.” Marshall’s masterful legal skills won case after case from the 1940s to the 1960s. He also believed that King’s raucous disobedience fomented backlash and violence.)…[There’s more…] Warren Smith is a resident of Beaufort County, NC and retired member of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Rustin, Ella Baker, and Stanley Levison founded In Friendship to raise funds in the North for southern civil rights efforts, including the bus boycott. Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith, and Jeanatta Reese, in the court case that determined that bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama was unconstitutional On June 5, 1956, the federal district court ruled in Browder v. Resolved not to end the boycott until the order to desegregate the buses actually arrived in Montgomery, the MIA operated without the carpool system for a month.

Today, unchecked violence and economic injustice remain serious problems for America but the solution to those tribulations is at hand, largely due to the methods pioneered by Parks and King, Colvin, Abernathy and countless other ordinary people who found themselves faced with exceptional challenges.

Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site