Today when we hear the word boycott, we think a catchy hash tag and a few days of changing our spending habits will bring about immediate change. But if we rewind back to the 1950’s, our people showed us the way for a boycott to be truly effective.
The ground work for a mass boycott started years before Ms. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. The foundation of the boycott started with the founding of the Womens’ Political Council (WPC) in 1946. The organization was started by a group of Black professionals who grew tired of the Jim Crow laws on the city buses. In 1954, the WPC outlined a specific plan of action that was given to the city’s mayor, W.A. Gayle, during a meeting. In the plan, the WPC stated: no Black person will stand over an open seat, Black customers will no longer pay at the front of the bus and then be forced to get on at the rear of the bus, buses will stop at every corner in Black neighborhoods just as they do in white neighborhoods. After several attempts by various individuals to get the city of Montgomery to change the way the bus system operated, it was the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955 that brought the Black community together.
The initial boycott was planned as a one-day event, where Black citizens would not use the city buses. The boycott was planned for December 5, 1955 and on that day 90% of the Black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama stood in unity and refused to ride the city buses. After realizing the boycott was not getting the sought after results, the boycott was extended. What started as a one-day event, continued all the way through 1956. This was a boycott in the truest sense because it lasted 13 months until a Constitutional Amendment made segregation on buses illegal. As the designated leader of the boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King and 80 other boycott leaders were charged in February 1956 of conspiring to interfere with lawful business. Dr. King was forced to pay a $500 fine or spend 386 days in jail.
The boycott was truly successful because the Black community united together and formed a massive carpooling network which had up to 300 cars. The boycott was also successful thanks to the numerous cooks and maids who walked endless amounts of miles for more than one-year instead of giving in and taking the city buses. Dr. King told a story of an elderly woman who he spoke to and she said she joined the boycott, not for herself but to see a change take place for her kids and grandkids.
After the US Supreme Court banned segregation on public buses and the law was finally accepted in Montgomery, Dr. King called for the city bus boycott to come to an end on December 20, 1956. The Montgomery bus boycott has given us the blueprint on how economically withholding our money until our demands for justice are met, from corporations that dehumanize us can be effective.