The Bus Boycott in Montgomery

The Bus Boycott in Montgomery


Suddenly, Montgomery, Alabama, has become one of the world’s most interesting cities. It is a handsome little town, restful for an ex-urbanite. In its center is a spacious circle with gently flowing water-spray, covered by soft lights in the evening. From it one looks down the main avenue to the white marble Capitol. Here markers tell the visitor where Jefferson Davis stood when he swore allegiance to the Southern Confederacy.

But it is not the White House of the Confederacy, preserved
in Montgomery by aged daughters of the Lost Cause,
that attracted the newspaper men, sociologists, and just plain
visitors who have been floating in and out these past few
weeks. It is the bus boycott. The metropolitan dailies have
on the scene what have been jokingly called “war correspondents
covering the Southern front.” And there are journalists from Japan, England, France.

With all the odds against it, the Negro community of Montgomery has initiated and sustained what is easily the most creative approach yet made to the crisis in race relations. And even those of us who have watched developments unfold day by day are reluctant to say that we understand fully what we see or that we can predict the outcome of it all.

Before last December, a visitor to Montgomery would have noticed Negroes standing up in the city buses, while there were empty seats right before them. Somebody could then explain that according to local practice, these unoccupied seats were reserved for “whites only.” No matter how packed a bus might be with Negro passengers, they were prohibited from sitting in the first 4 seats (which hold about 10 persons) . Theoretically, the last 3 back seats (holding about 10 persons) were similarly reserved for Negroes. In fact this was not so. Moreover, if white passengers were already occupying all of their reserved seats and additional white passengers boarded the bus, Negro passengers, sitting in the unreserved section immediately behind the whites, might be asked to get up and “move back” by the bus driver. At times this was done courteously; all-too-often it was an undisguised insult.

Race relations in Montgomery have traditionally been “good” in the sense that Negroes have seldom challenged their state of subordination. The structure of the society was more or less set. Opposition seemed futile. Personal difficulties might be adjusted through some prominent Negro, who would speak with an influential white person. This was the established pattern of paternalism; and it did not disturb the status ...