60 years after boycott, using Montgomery bus can be trying

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

60 years after boycott, using Montgomery bus can be trying.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Two blocks from the spot where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955, 17-year-old Tanesha Wilson listens to earbuds as she waits for the No. 8.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.

She takes two buses every afternoon to get to her job at McDonald’s after spending her mornings studying math and science, the last two tests she must pass to get her GED and start studying for an accounting degree. Sixty years after Parks’ arrest sparked the historic boycott to end racial segregation on Montgomery’s buses, the overwhelmingly black ridership of Montgomery’s bus system no longer faces legalized racial segregation — but they face a bus system that advocates call inadequate. “We went from the back of the bus to where’s the bus?” said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst for Alabama Arise, an advocacy group for the state’s low-income families. 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.

Montgomery’s system, like public transportation in many cities, is short of money and long on challenges such as urban sprawl, declining passenger numbers, tight budgets and government policy choices that value freeways over mass transit. 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. When the meeting failed to produce any meaningful change, WPC president Jo Ann Robinson reiterated the council’s requests in a 21 May letter to Gayle, telling him, “there has been talk from twenty-five or more local organizations of planning a city-wide boycott of busses.” A year after the WPC’s meeting with the Mayor, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested for challenging segregation on a Montgomery bus. 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.

Reeves gets up at 4:45 each morning to catch a 6:15 bus that gets her to work by about 7:50 a.m., but she doesn’t clock in until 9. “It is always a challenge to make sure that you’ve got adequate lines, you’ve got adequate equipment, and we actually run close to a million and a-half miles a year,” Strange said. “But is that enough? But, at the same time, are you going to put more buses on or are you going to put more police officers or more firefighters on?” Art Guzzetti, vice president of the American Public Transportation Association, said ideally, transit funding is a partnership of federal, state and local entities. “To the degree that one of those partners is missing, the other partners have to do double duty,” Guzzetti said.

As more white passengers got on, the bus drivers would slide to the rear a sign that acted as a sort of segregation demarcation line. “It didn’t really make sense to me, but I still obeyed,” said Smith, who grew up in the tiny Alabama town of Union Springs. “Mama taught us to obey.” The soft-spoken seamstress, then 42, gave no indication to Smith that she was planning to defy authority as she sat down in the front of the “colored section.” Smith remained standing behind her, holding an overhead strap for balance. While direct statistical comparisons with 1955 are difficult, anecdotal evidence suggests ridership today in Montgomery is more heavily African-American. Martin Luther King wrote that he told city officials during the 1955 boycott negotiations that 75 percent of the segregated bus system’s riders were African-American.

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. Sprawl to the city’s east side, fueled by white and middle class flight, stripped the city of the urban density that lends itself to an efficient transit system.

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. 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. 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.

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.” King spoke to several thousand people at the meeting: “I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. 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. But it took a dip again when the bus system raised fares to $2 in 2012 to balance the budget. “There was a time we didn’t even have a transit system to speak of here in Montgomery. 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.

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