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The Montgomery Bus Boycott and
the Crisis at Little Rock
(1956) (1960)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (Feb 1956)
Rosa Parks (Feb 1956)
Montgomery Bus Boycott
(Dec 1955 – Dec 1956)
Resistance in Montgomery
Before the Boycott
Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political
Council (WPC) was a key organizer of the
boycott, leading meetings, distributing leaflets,
organizing carpools, and working to ensure
Black residents of Montgomery stayed off the
buses.
Claudette Colvin, age 15, was arrested for
refusing to give up her bus seat in March 1955.
She was one of several others arrested for
violating segregation ordnances on city buses
before Rosa Parks. Most were fined, but a few
were arrested.
Primary Source:
Letter from the WPC to the Mayor of Montgomery
• According to the author, Jo Ann Robinson, what were the grievances
of Black bus patrons in Montgomery at the time she wrote this letter?
• What was the Women’s Political Council (WPC) demanding?
• What does this source reveal about the bus boycott that conventional
understandings (reinforced by the master narrative) often miss or
overlook?
• Worked on behalf of the nine “Scottsboro Boys” falsely accused of
raping two white women in Alabama in the 1930s.
• Dedicated six decades of her life to civil rights activism, including a
key focus on the criminal justice system, namely efforts to combat false
accusations against Black men and disregard of sexual assaults suffered
by Black women.
• Worked with the NAACP Youth Chapter for a decade prior to her arrest
in Montgomery, focusing on voter registration, criminal justice reform,
and active resistance to segregation.
• Was not middle-class, as is often thought; she and her husband lived in
public housing and both lost their jobs a few weeks into the boycott.
They were forced to leave Montgomery after the boycott’s end, seeking
work in Detroit, and were thus part of the Great Migration.
• Continued her activism in what she called “the Northern promised land
that wasn’t,” organizing against housing and employment
discrimination, segregation, and police brutality.
• Worked to publicize the facts of a police brutality case during an
uprising in Detroit in 1967.
• Admired Malcolm X and Black Power activists, and worked to end the
Vietnam war.
Source: Jeanne Theoharis, “Opinion: The Real Rosa
Parks is Better than the Fairy Tale,”
New York Times (1 Feb 2021).
Rosa Parks
Montgomery newcomer Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. was selected to lead the
Montgomery Improvement Association
(MIA), newly organized to facilitate the
bus boycott. He would also become the
first president of the MIA’s offshoot, the
Southern Christian Leadership
Conference (SCLC), which would be
involved in drives for desegregation
across the nation.
• Born “Michael King Jr.” to a middle-class
family in Atlanta, his father and maternal
grandfather were both pastors of Ebenezer
Baptist Church. His paternal grandparents
were sharecroppers.
• Attended segregated schools during his
childhood and later vividly recalled feeling
anger and rage at his treatment under Jim
Crow.
• At age 19, graduated from Morehouse
College, an HBCU in Atlanta, then attended
Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania,
before entering a doctoral program in theology
at Boston University.
• While in Boston, King met his future wife,
Coretta Scott, originally from Alabama, who
was studying opera at the New England
Conservatory of Music.
Martin Luther King Jr.
In September 1954, at the age of twenty-five, Martin Luther King Jr and his wife Coretta moved to
Montgomery where he would serve until 1960 as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (above
left), which would become a key site of organizing during the bus boycott. Black churches
contributed valuable financial resources, community contacts, meeting spaces, leadership, and
moral authority to the growing movement.
During the boycott, Montgomery City Lines, a local subsidiary of National City Lines, operated
at far below capacity, often running empty or nearly-empty buses. Prior to the boycott, Black
residents had accounted for 75 percent of city bus patrons.
Bombing of King’s Home
On January 30, while he was preaching to a
crowd of 2,000 at a nearby church, King’s
home was bombed with his wife and infant
daughter inside. Upon learning that
everyone was safe, King urged the crowd
that had gathered outside to support him to
remain calm: “We believe in law and order.
Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by
the sword will perish by the sword.
Remember that is what God said. We are
not advocating violence. We want to love
our enemies. … Love them and let them
know you love them. I want it to be known
the length and breadth of this land that if I
am stopped, this movement will not stop. If
I am stopped, our work will not stop. For
what we are doing is right. What we are
doing is just. And God is with us.” No one
was ever charged with the crime.
Many Black residents in Montgomery
walked miles a day to avoid patronizing
the city’s segregated bus system.
Meanwhile, the MIA organized an intricate
system of carpooling to ensure that nearly
30,000 boycotters would be able to get to
work and school. City officials and police
sought to disrupt the carpooling service by
ticketing or harassing drivers and riders,
eventually declaring the carpool an illegal
effort to impede a lawful business
(Montgomery City Lines) in June 1956.
The Militant (13 Feb 1956)
“Tote Dat barge! Lift Dat Boycott!
Ride Dat Bus!”
By Herblock (Washington Post, 1956)
Browder v. Gayle (1956)
• Soon after the start of the boycott, local civil rights leaders filed a lawsuit
against the mayor of Montgomery, W.A. Gayle, on behalf of four
plaintiffs who had suffered discrimination on the city’s segregated buses:
Aurelia Browder (pictured), Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, and
Mary Louise Smith. A fifth plaintiff dropped out due to intimidation by
white segregationists.
• Parks was not named in the suit because she was then facing criminal
charges related to her arrest in December, which could, activists feared,
spend years tied up in the court system. Moreover, if the suit were
centered around Parks, it might be possible to win, and thus overturn the
charges against her, without actually ending segregation of the bus
system.
• The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in November
1956 upheld a lower court’s ruling that segregated buses were in
violation of the the Fourteenth Amendment according to the precedent
set by Brown.
• A month after the ruling, Montgomery buses were officially desegregated
after Mayor Gayle, who had previously been seen as a moderate on
issues of race, was handed formal notice by federal marshals.
Aurelia Browder
Rosa Parks (above left) and Dr. King and aide Ralph
Abernathy (below left) were photographed riding
integrated buses following the Supreme Court ruling
in Browder v. Gayle, which formally required
desegregation of the bus system (Dec 1956).
Following the success of the boycott, proponents of segregation attempted to
depict King as a communist, highlighting the connection between the Cold
War and the young civil rights movement. This billboard, which featured a
photo taken in 1957, sat alongside an Alabama road in 1965.
The Southern Manifesto
and “Massive Resistance”
Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-SC) prepares
a draft of “the Southern Manifesto.”
“…The unwarranted decision of the Supreme Court in the public school cases
[Brown] is now bearing the fruit always produced when men substitute naked
power for established law…This unwarranted exercise of power by the court,
contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the states
principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and
Negro races that have been created through ninety years of patient effort by the
good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has
been heretofore friendship and understanding.
Without regard to the consent of the governed, outside agitators are threatening
immediate and revolutionary changes in our public school systems. If done, this
is certain to destroy the system of public education in some of the states…”
—“The Southern Manifesto” (Mar 1956),
signed by all but three U.S. Senators representing Southern states*
*Sens. Al Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver of Tennessee,
as well as Senate Majority Leader (and future U.S. President) Lyndon Johnson of Texas did not sign.
Crisis at Little Rock Central High School
(1957-58)
The Little Rock Nine
Eighteen Black students were carefully
selected by the NAACP to be the first to
integrate Central High School. They
were chosen due to their outstanding
grades and attendance and their
willingness to put themselves in a
potentially dangerous and
uncomfortable situation. By the start of
the 1957 school year, only nine of the
original eighteen were still willing to be
part of the highly-charged process.
These students became known as the
“Little Rock Nine.” They are pictured
here with Daisy Bates of the Arkansas
NAACP (top row, second from the
right), who mentored and strategized
with the students during the year-long
ordeal. Only one of the nine would
graduate from Central High School.
“…[M]alice, envy, hate is deplorable, in any
place or in any circumstances…[Y]ou can’t
change the hearts of people by law. If it is right,
it will come about. So, why should we be so
impatient as to want to force it, because force
begets force, hate begets hate, malice begets
malice. But, if time was given for an adjustment
of the attitudes and the feelings of people, then
it can be peacefully accomplished, which would
be better for all concerned….It is the simple
fact that these things cannot be done overnight.”
—Gov. Orval Faubus,
rationalizing resistance to
desegregation in Little Rock
(15 Sept 1957)
To prevent the integration of Central High School, Arkansas Gov. Faubus deployed the state
National Guard, ordering troops to refuse entry to the nine Black students set to begin classes
there (4 Sept 1957).
Elizabeth Eckford, 15, who missed the phone call instructing her to gather with the other eight Black
students on the first morning to arrive at school together, was followed and taunted by an angry crowd after
being denied entrance to the school (4 Sept 1957). She maintained her composure as Hazel Bryan, also 15,
was photographed sneering at her in rage and disgust.
Pres. Eisenhower (who sympathized with
opponents of Brown) and Arkansas Gov. Orval
Faubus shook hands after a meeting to address the
crisis at Central High School (Sept 24).
Though Faubus had sought the president’s help in
delaying integration of Arkansas schools, the
following day armed federal troops, under orders
from Eisenhower, integrated Central High School
by threat of force.
The “Little Rock Nine,” three males and six females, were escorted into Central High School by
U.S. paratroopers in full battle gear the day after Pres. Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce
the Brown decision (25 Sept 1957).
The “Lost Year”
(1958-1959)
Rather than permit public schools to operate
on an integrated basis in accordance with
federal law, Governor Faubus ordered all
four high schools in Little Rock to close for
the 1958-59 school year, leaving nearly
3,700 students, Black and white, without
access to public education. Several weeks
into the school year, voters in Little Rock
seemingly supported this measure by a
margin of three-to-one, voting against
“complete integration.”
Some students traveled to other cities for school or moved in with friends or relatives in other school districts, while
those who could afford to enrolled in newly opened segregated private schools (“seg academies”). Nearly 93 percent
of white students displaced by the closures were able to continue their education in some form that year, while only
half of Black students were able to do so. Of those who could not, some sought employment while others joined the
military. In Dec 1959, the Supreme Court ruled that the schools must be reopened on a desegregated basis.
With schools closed to prevent integration, a young woman watched a televised high
school class to keep up with her studies (Little Rock, Sept 1958).
At an anti-integration rally in Little Rock, protesters carried American flags alongside
placards declaring that “race mixing is communism” and “the march of the antichrist”
(Aug 1959).
This image shows a Black boy watching a mob march from the capital to
Little Rock Central High School to protest school desegregation (20 Aug 1959).
Integration of William Frantz Elementary School
in New Orleans (1960)
“She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She
didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little
soldier, and we’re all very proud of her.”
— Former Marshal Charles Burks
6 year-old Ruby Bridges
Lucille Bridges looks at the original Norman Rockwell painting of her daughter
Ruby on display at the MFA in Houston in 2006.
By Bill Mauldin (1 Sep 1960)
By Herblock (17 May 1962)

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  • 1. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Crisis at Little Rock (1956) (1960)
  • 2. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Feb 1956) Rosa Parks (Feb 1956) Montgomery Bus Boycott (Dec 1955 – Dec 1956)
  • 3. Resistance in Montgomery Before the Boycott Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council (WPC) was a key organizer of the boycott, leading meetings, distributing leaflets, organizing carpools, and working to ensure Black residents of Montgomery stayed off the buses. Claudette Colvin, age 15, was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat in March 1955. She was one of several others arrested for violating segregation ordnances on city buses before Rosa Parks. Most were fined, but a few were arrested.
  • 4. Primary Source: Letter from the WPC to the Mayor of Montgomery • According to the author, Jo Ann Robinson, what were the grievances of Black bus patrons in Montgomery at the time she wrote this letter? • What was the Women’s Political Council (WPC) demanding? • What does this source reveal about the bus boycott that conventional understandings (reinforced by the master narrative) often miss or overlook?
  • 5. • Worked on behalf of the nine “Scottsboro Boys” falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama in the 1930s. • Dedicated six decades of her life to civil rights activism, including a key focus on the criminal justice system, namely efforts to combat false accusations against Black men and disregard of sexual assaults suffered by Black women. • Worked with the NAACP Youth Chapter for a decade prior to her arrest in Montgomery, focusing on voter registration, criminal justice reform, and active resistance to segregation. • Was not middle-class, as is often thought; she and her husband lived in public housing and both lost their jobs a few weeks into the boycott. They were forced to leave Montgomery after the boycott’s end, seeking work in Detroit, and were thus part of the Great Migration. • Continued her activism in what she called “the Northern promised land that wasn’t,” organizing against housing and employment discrimination, segregation, and police brutality. • Worked to publicize the facts of a police brutality case during an uprising in Detroit in 1967. • Admired Malcolm X and Black Power activists, and worked to end the Vietnam war. Source: Jeanne Theoharis, “Opinion: The Real Rosa Parks is Better than the Fairy Tale,” New York Times (1 Feb 2021). Rosa Parks
  • 6. Montgomery newcomer Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was selected to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), newly organized to facilitate the bus boycott. He would also become the first president of the MIA’s offshoot, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which would be involved in drives for desegregation across the nation.
  • 7. • Born “Michael King Jr.” to a middle-class family in Atlanta, his father and maternal grandfather were both pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church. His paternal grandparents were sharecroppers. • Attended segregated schools during his childhood and later vividly recalled feeling anger and rage at his treatment under Jim Crow. • At age 19, graduated from Morehouse College, an HBCU in Atlanta, then attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, before entering a doctoral program in theology at Boston University. • While in Boston, King met his future wife, Coretta Scott, originally from Alabama, who was studying opera at the New England Conservatory of Music. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • 8. In September 1954, at the age of twenty-five, Martin Luther King Jr and his wife Coretta moved to Montgomery where he would serve until 1960 as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (above left), which would become a key site of organizing during the bus boycott. Black churches contributed valuable financial resources, community contacts, meeting spaces, leadership, and moral authority to the growing movement.
  • 9. During the boycott, Montgomery City Lines, a local subsidiary of National City Lines, operated at far below capacity, often running empty or nearly-empty buses. Prior to the boycott, Black residents had accounted for 75 percent of city bus patrons.
  • 10. Bombing of King’s Home On January 30, while he was preaching to a crowd of 2,000 at a nearby church, King’s home was bombed with his wife and infant daughter inside. Upon learning that everyone was safe, King urged the crowd that had gathered outside to support him to remain calm: “We believe in law and order. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what God said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. … Love them and let them know you love them. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.” No one was ever charged with the crime.
  • 11. Many Black residents in Montgomery walked miles a day to avoid patronizing the city’s segregated bus system. Meanwhile, the MIA organized an intricate system of carpooling to ensure that nearly 30,000 boycotters would be able to get to work and school. City officials and police sought to disrupt the carpooling service by ticketing or harassing drivers and riders, eventually declaring the carpool an illegal effort to impede a lawful business (Montgomery City Lines) in June 1956.
  • 12. The Militant (13 Feb 1956)
  • 13. “Tote Dat barge! Lift Dat Boycott! Ride Dat Bus!” By Herblock (Washington Post, 1956)
  • 14. Browder v. Gayle (1956) • Soon after the start of the boycott, local civil rights leaders filed a lawsuit against the mayor of Montgomery, W.A. Gayle, on behalf of four plaintiffs who had suffered discrimination on the city’s segregated buses: Aurelia Browder (pictured), Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith. A fifth plaintiff dropped out due to intimidation by white segregationists. • Parks was not named in the suit because she was then facing criminal charges related to her arrest in December, which could, activists feared, spend years tied up in the court system. Moreover, if the suit were centered around Parks, it might be possible to win, and thus overturn the charges against her, without actually ending segregation of the bus system. • The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in November 1956 upheld a lower court’s ruling that segregated buses were in violation of the the Fourteenth Amendment according to the precedent set by Brown. • A month after the ruling, Montgomery buses were officially desegregated after Mayor Gayle, who had previously been seen as a moderate on issues of race, was handed formal notice by federal marshals. Aurelia Browder
  • 15. Rosa Parks (above left) and Dr. King and aide Ralph Abernathy (below left) were photographed riding integrated buses following the Supreme Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle, which formally required desegregation of the bus system (Dec 1956).
  • 16. Following the success of the boycott, proponents of segregation attempted to depict King as a communist, highlighting the connection between the Cold War and the young civil rights movement. This billboard, which featured a photo taken in 1957, sat alongside an Alabama road in 1965.
  • 17. The Southern Manifesto and “Massive Resistance” Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-SC) prepares a draft of “the Southern Manifesto.”
  • 18. “…The unwarranted decision of the Supreme Court in the public school cases [Brown] is now bearing the fruit always produced when men substitute naked power for established law…This unwarranted exercise of power by the court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the states principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through ninety years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding. Without regard to the consent of the governed, outside agitators are threatening immediate and revolutionary changes in our public school systems. If done, this is certain to destroy the system of public education in some of the states…” —“The Southern Manifesto” (Mar 1956), signed by all but three U.S. Senators representing Southern states* *Sens. Al Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, as well as Senate Majority Leader (and future U.S. President) Lyndon Johnson of Texas did not sign.
  • 19. Crisis at Little Rock Central High School (1957-58)
  • 20. The Little Rock Nine Eighteen Black students were carefully selected by the NAACP to be the first to integrate Central High School. They were chosen due to their outstanding grades and attendance and their willingness to put themselves in a potentially dangerous and uncomfortable situation. By the start of the 1957 school year, only nine of the original eighteen were still willing to be part of the highly-charged process. These students became known as the “Little Rock Nine.” They are pictured here with Daisy Bates of the Arkansas NAACP (top row, second from the right), who mentored and strategized with the students during the year-long ordeal. Only one of the nine would graduate from Central High School.
  • 21. “…[M]alice, envy, hate is deplorable, in any place or in any circumstances…[Y]ou can’t change the hearts of people by law. If it is right, it will come about. So, why should we be so impatient as to want to force it, because force begets force, hate begets hate, malice begets malice. But, if time was given for an adjustment of the attitudes and the feelings of people, then it can be peacefully accomplished, which would be better for all concerned….It is the simple fact that these things cannot be done overnight.” —Gov. Orval Faubus, rationalizing resistance to desegregation in Little Rock (15 Sept 1957)
  • 22. To prevent the integration of Central High School, Arkansas Gov. Faubus deployed the state National Guard, ordering troops to refuse entry to the nine Black students set to begin classes there (4 Sept 1957).
  • 23. Elizabeth Eckford, 15, who missed the phone call instructing her to gather with the other eight Black students on the first morning to arrive at school together, was followed and taunted by an angry crowd after being denied entrance to the school (4 Sept 1957). She maintained her composure as Hazel Bryan, also 15, was photographed sneering at her in rage and disgust.
  • 24.
  • 25.
  • 26.
  • 27. Pres. Eisenhower (who sympathized with opponents of Brown) and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus shook hands after a meeting to address the crisis at Central High School (Sept 24). Though Faubus had sought the president’s help in delaying integration of Arkansas schools, the following day armed federal troops, under orders from Eisenhower, integrated Central High School by threat of force.
  • 28. The “Little Rock Nine,” three males and six females, were escorted into Central High School by U.S. paratroopers in full battle gear the day after Pres. Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the Brown decision (25 Sept 1957).
  • 29. The “Lost Year” (1958-1959) Rather than permit public schools to operate on an integrated basis in accordance with federal law, Governor Faubus ordered all four high schools in Little Rock to close for the 1958-59 school year, leaving nearly 3,700 students, Black and white, without access to public education. Several weeks into the school year, voters in Little Rock seemingly supported this measure by a margin of three-to-one, voting against “complete integration.” Some students traveled to other cities for school or moved in with friends or relatives in other school districts, while those who could afford to enrolled in newly opened segregated private schools (“seg academies”). Nearly 93 percent of white students displaced by the closures were able to continue their education in some form that year, while only half of Black students were able to do so. Of those who could not, some sought employment while others joined the military. In Dec 1959, the Supreme Court ruled that the schools must be reopened on a desegregated basis.
  • 30. With schools closed to prevent integration, a young woman watched a televised high school class to keep up with her studies (Little Rock, Sept 1958).
  • 31. At an anti-integration rally in Little Rock, protesters carried American flags alongside placards declaring that “race mixing is communism” and “the march of the antichrist” (Aug 1959).
  • 32. This image shows a Black boy watching a mob march from the capital to Little Rock Central High School to protest school desegregation (20 Aug 1959).
  • 33. Integration of William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans (1960) “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very proud of her.” — Former Marshal Charles Burks 6 year-old Ruby Bridges
  • 34. Lucille Bridges looks at the original Norman Rockwell painting of her daughter Ruby on display at the MFA in Houston in 2006.
  • 35. By Bill Mauldin (1 Sep 1960)
  • 36. By Herblock (17 May 1962)

Editor's Notes

  1. St. Louis Post-Dispatch (1960)
  2. Colvin: "Whenever people ask me: 'Why didn't you get up when the bus driver asked you?' I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman's hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth's hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail," she says.
  3. https://thelostyear.com/