Tells the story of the 1955-56 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama by African Americans. They just wanted to be treated with dignity on city buses, but they helped launch a nationwide civil rights movement.
Index, annotated bibliography, map of Montgomery with locations marked
Period black and white photographs with captions, and photographs of the people and places described every few pages
Timeline (sequence of events), Cause & Effect (what sparked this boycott; how the boycott contributed to the civil rights movement), Compare & Contrast (rules for whites vs. non-whites at the time), Procedural (how a boycott works, what tactics did each side use), Problem/Solution (how did the boycotters solve the problems of communicating about the boycott)
Purpose and effects of legal segregation; success of non-violent resistance/protest strategies; how this event helped spur the wider Civil Rights movement; how this event caused Martin Luther King to rise to prominence in the movement
Boycott, segregation, integration, Jim Crow laws, unconstitutional, passive resistance
Very short chapter provides examples of segregation and “Jim Crow” laws in the South that “enforced a system of white supremacy that discriminated against blacks and kept them in their place as second-class citizens.” Because they could not affect the system through voting, black citizens in Montgomery, Alabama used a peaceful protest that “started on a bus.”
Jim Crow laws
Map of Montgomery with key locations marked, just before this chapter
White and black passengers separated on a trolley
What were Jim Crow laws?
Give some examples of places where black and white citizens were not allowed to be together under these laws.
How were voting laws set up to keep blacks from voting?
If blacks couldn’t vote, how could they affect laws, government, and the conditions of their lives?
The introduction’s title is “Why They Walked.” Who were “they” and what does “walking” have to do with the subject of this book?
Author’s craft (how does the author create suspense at the end of the introduction; how does the author quickly humanize and summarize the complex topic of legal segregation?)
Chapter 1 – Jo Ann Robinson(pp. 4-13 – 9 pages)
In 1949, an African American college professor named Jo Ann Robinson was ordered off a Montgomery city bus by an angry, threatening white bus driver because she sat in the whites-only section. This kind of treatment was not an uncommon occurrence. Those seats were reserved for whites no matter how few were being used or how many black riders had to stand. Robinson was a member of the Women’s Political Council and was elected as its president in 1950, and they made the bus segregation issue their top priority. At first they asked city and bus company officials for very minor changes: more bus stops in black neighborhoods, hiring some black drivers, and stopping drivers from being abusive. Though they did create more bus stops and requested that drivers be more courteous, nothing else changed. Segregation was required by city and state law. In 1954, the Supreme Court declared that school segregation was unconstitutional. Believing that desegregation would eventually be applied to other segregated facilities, Robinson wrote Montgomery Mayor Gayle demanding improved conditions on the city buses and mentioning that there was talk of a citywide boycott. Though this would inconvenience and maybe even endanger Montgomery’s black citizens, the WPC began to plan the boycott.
Jo Ann Robinson
Bus station with prominent sign reading “Colored Waiting Room”
Another bus station with sign reading “White Waiting Room”
Masked member of the Klan holds a noose out of a car window
Who was Jo Ann Robinson and why did she need to take the Montgomery city bus back in 1949?
How was she treated on that bus ride?
What was typical about her treatment? What was unusual about Robinson herself?
Describe the conditions and rules when riding a Montgomery city bus at the time.
What was the Women’s Political Council and what was Robinson’s relationship with it?
Between 1950 and 1954, what changes did the Women’s Political Council want with regard to Montgomery’s city busses?
What national event in 1954 caused Robinson and the Council to demand even more changes?
What did the Council threaten to do if the changes were not made?
What effect would a bus boycott have on the city? On the bus company? On black bus riders?
Cause and Effect (how did the mistreatment of one black woman lead to the start of the Montgomery bus boycott; how did the Supreme Court’s ruling on school segregation affect the issue of bus segregation; how did the Council hope the boycott would affect the bus company and the city?)
Author’s craft (where are the emotional moments in this chapter?)
Chapter recounts cases taking place in 1949 (Edwina and Marshall Johnson) and 1955 (Claudette Colvin in March, and Mary Louise Smith in October) where black teenagers were arrested for refusing to give up bus seats. The Colvin case gets the most coverage, and is interesting particularly because she did not in fact sit in the white area – she was arrested for refusing to move out of a seat in the black area to make room for whites. While segregation was the law, forcing blacks out of the black seats for white riders was more of an unstated practice of the bus company. E.D. Nixon, founder of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, was looking for someone who had been victimized in this way in order to use the case to reach the federal courts and strike down bus segregation laws. Colvin’s and Smith’s cases were not ideal for inspiring this movement, but as it turned out, Rosa Park’s would be.
Examples of segregated facilities (theater, hotel, waiting room, Coke machine)
Mary Louise Smith
What happened to Edwina & Marshall Johnson on a Montgomery bus in 1949? Why didn’t they know the city’s laws?
What do we know about Claudette Colvin? Why does the author suggest that “she must have been paying attention in her civics classes”?
What happened to Claudette Colvin on March 2, 1955? What important detail made her situation different from other similar incidents?
What was the result of Colvin’s trial?
Who was E.D. Nixon? Why was he interested in the Colvin case? Why did he ultimately abandon the Colvin case for his purposes?
What happened to Mary Louise Smith in October of 1955? How was this similar to what happened to Claudette Colvin?
Why did E.D. Nixon think that the Smith case would not help his cause?
Cause and Effect (why was E.D. Nixon hoping a black passenger would be arrested and what did he hope to accomplish through that event?)
Procedural (the difference between a codified law like “separate seats for black and white passengers” and the bus company’s unstated practice of moving black passengers out of black seats to make room for more white passengers; procedure for appealing a court decision to a higher court, and why E.D. Nixon was looking for such an opportunity)
Author’s craft (where are the emotional moments in this chapter; how does he create suspense at the end of the chapter)
Mary Louise Smith
Chapter 3 – Rosa Parks(pp. 23-35 – 8 pages)
Rosa Parks was one of the few blacks in Montgomery to hold a high school diploma. She was a seamstress, but also an active member of the NAACP and was interested in the issues of rights and integration. In December 1955, Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat in the black section of the bus to a white passenger. After she was bailed out of jail, E.D. Nixon felt this was the “test case” he had been waiting for, as Parks was “a person of exceptional dignity and strength of character.” This was not a trivial decision for Parks, for violence against blacks was not uncommon, and the Emmitt Till case was fresh in people’s minds. The WPC was notified and they decided to write a protest letter and stage a one-day bus boycott. They quickly distributed 52,000 leaflets to the black community urging them to stay off the buses on the next business day.
Parks stands at a bus stop near the store where she worked
Parks and E.D. Nixon
Attorney Clifford Durr
Typed leaflet calling for a one-day bus boycott
Describe Rosa Parks as she was in 1955: how old was she, where did she work, etc.?
What factors in Parks’ life had prepared her to deal with the issue of her rights as a black citizen of Montgomery?
Briefly describe what happened to Parks on the city bus on Thursday, December 1, 1955. What did she do that led to her arrest?
After her arrest, why did Parks’ mother call E.D. Nixon? And why did E.D. Nixon call Clifford Durr?
Why did Nixon feel this was the “case he had been waiting for”?
What were the possible drawbacks to Parks if she agreed to participate in this test case?
Who was Emmett Till and why is he included in this chapter?
What reasons did Parks give for agreeing to participate in the test case?
Who was Fred Gray? Why did he contact Jo Ann Robinson that night? What did Gray mean when he described the mood as “electric”?
What did Robinson and members of the Women’s Political Council decide to do once they learned of the Rosa Parks situation?
How did the WPC communicate about the one-day boycott that was to take place on Monday, December 5? How many copies were made?
Who did Nixon contact to arrange a meeting on Friday night?
According to the text of the boycott leaflet, why did the black riders feel they had some power over the bus company? What threat does the leaflet suggest would happen if no action was taken?
Cause & Effect (the relationships, situations, and factors that led to Rosa Parks’ decision to resist unjust treatment; how the Rosa Parks case led to the boycott; how the black community hoped the boycott would lead to changes)
Procedural (how a boycott works; the logistics of arranging this boycott)
The single-day boycott was a success. The mostly empty buses were trailed by armed motorcycle cops, supposedly to keep the boycott leaders from intimidating blacks who truly did want to ride the bus, but this probably scared off any who might have ridden. The city’s taxi companies worked with the boycott organizers, offering discounted taxi fares. Many boycotters simply walked to and from work. The day of the boycott was the day of the trial of Rosa Parks, who was quickly found guilty and fined $14 and given a suspended sentence. Her lawyer filed an appeal to move this up to higher courts. That afternoon, black leaders, including a young Martin Luther King Jr., met to decide if the boycott would continue. They formed a new organization, the Montgomery Improvement Association and elected King as president. King was a PhD-educated minister and an active civil rights proponent and already a powerful speaker. King was greatly inspired by the teachings of Gandhi and his use of nonviolent, passive resistance, “refusing to cooperate with an unjust system.” He felt this method tied in with notions of Christian love. That evening, King delivered a powerful speech in which he explained that “there will be no threats and intimidation,” and that the only weapon would be “the weapon of protest.” He exhorted them to “protest courageously and yet with dignity and Christian love.” Attendees were excited and voted to continue with the boycott.
Motorcycle police watch a parking lot where black boycotters wait for rides
King speaks at a crowded boycott rally
Clapping and cheering crowd of riders supporting the boycott
What two significant events took place on Monday, December 5, 1955?
How did things go with the one-day bus boycott? How did black citizens get to work and around town that day?
What happened at Parks’ trial? What happened to Parks shortly after the trial?
Who was Martin Luther King Jr. and what was he doing in Montgomery? How did he get involved in the boycott?
When Montgomery’s black leaders met that afternoon to discuss whether to continue the boycott beyond the one day, what argument did E.D. Nixon use to help convince them?
Why was King a good choice to lead the new Montgomery Improvement Association?
Who was Mahatma Gandhi and how did he influence King’s beliefs?
What method of protest did Dr. King advocate? Why did he feel it would be effective? Why did he feel it was the right way to protest?
What was the mood like at the protest meeting at the Holt Street Baptist Church that night?
What were the main points in King’s speech that night? What were the black citizens of Montgomery “tired” of? What “weapon” did King ask them to use? What did he say future generations would say of these people if they protested courageously, with dignity and Christian love?
What was Mayor Gayle’s reaction to the news of that evening’s protest?
Cause & Effect (how did King get involved in the Montgomery boycott; how did that boycott launch King towards national prominence)
Compare & Contrast (violent vs. non-violent protest methods)
Author’s craft (how the boycott and King’s backstory are interwoven in this chapter; where does the emotion come from in this chapter)
Full text of King’s Montgomery Boycott speech?
Chapter 5 – Boycott Heroes(pp. 49-58 – 9 pages)
Within the first week, the city required the taxi companies to stop discounting fares, and with normal fares too expensive for many, an extensive carpooling system was devised by the MIA. Many other blacks simply walked when they needed to. Regular meetings were held to celebrate the successes of the boycott and to acknowledge “boycott heroes.” The protest was covered by the national press, and money came in from outside sources including chapters of the NAACP. The demands of the boycotters were 1) courteous treatment on buses; 2) black drivers on routes serving black neighborhoods; and 3) blacks would not have to give up seats in the “black sections” for white riders. They were not actually demanding full integration. Despite several meetings with bus company lawyers and city officials, the demands were rejected. King came to realize that “the underlying purpose of segregation was to oppress and exploit the segregated, not simply to keep them apart” and that “the basic purpose of segregation was to perpetuate injustice and inequality.” The city responded to the boycott in a few ways: 1) forbidding taxi companies from discounting their fares; 2) raising bus fares to make up for lost ridership; 3) urging whites to ride buses; 4) eventually the mayor joined a pro-segregation group called the White Citizens Council. Some sympathetic whites supported the boycott by giving rides, or participating in the boycott itself, or by writing letters to the local newspaper.
Black citizens waiting at a car pool pickup station
Martin Luther King
Boycott leaders Fred Gray, Ralph Abernathy, and Robert Graetz
What immediate problems did the boycott organizers have to solve in order to help the people who would normally ride busses to work?
What were the demands of the boycotters? What specifically did they NOT demand?
How did the bus company and city government respond to the boycott?
How did the black community keep the boycott going and communicate about it? What role did the national press play in aiding the boycott?
What did King come to realize was the true purpose of segregation?
What role did “sympathetic” whites play in the boycott?
Cause & Effect (each action of the city government was designed to cause the boycott to fail – what actual effects did they have?)
Compare & Contrast (compare the moderate demands of the boycotters with true, full desegregation)
Procedural (the challenges of designing and carrying out a complicated carpooling system)
Baton Rouge bus boycott
Chapter 6 – Proud To Be Arrested(pp. 59-74 – 15 pages)
The bus company announced in January 1956 that it was near bankruptcy. Downtown businesses were suffering. The mayor announced that he would no longer negotiate with the boycotters. City leaders asked white employers to stop giving their black employees rides. They decided to try to discredit the leaders of the boycott, King in particular. City police began to harass carpool drivers, ticketing for minor or imaginary offenses, and also harassing those waiting for rides based on hitchhiking and vagrancy laws. King himself was arrested and briefly jailed for speeding while transporting boycotters. King received threatening letters and phone calls and learned of reliable threats on his life. Late in January, King’s house was attacked with a homemade bomb. King talked an angry crowd out of responding with violence. E.D. Nixon and Jo Ann Robinson were also victims of attacks on their property. In February, King, 23 other ministers, and all of the car pool drivers were indicted under an obscure law that prohibited boycotts “without just cause.” City commissioners offered to drop the charges if the boycott would cease, but the offer was turned down. Instead of waiting to be arrested, the indicted boycotters beginning with E.D. Nixon showed up at the courthouse voluntarily to be booked and then release on bond. Crowds showed up to cheer on those who were being arrested and released. King had been out of town and returned to be arrested the next day and was similarly cheered. Rosa Parks’ appeal had been thrown out on a technicality, so a new case was filed in federal courts challenging bus segregation as a violation of the Constitution on behalf of five other women who had been mistreated on the buses. They assumed it would take months or years for it to arrive at the Supreme Court. But the weather was getting warmer and the boycott would continue.
Members of the White Citizens Council
African American driver gets a ticket during a police crackdown on carpool drivers
Montgomery Mayor Gayle
Floodlights and volunteer guards at King’s home after a bombing
Defendants and supporters jam the Montgomery courthouse after 115 boycotters were indicted
Rosa Parks is fingerprinted
“Booking photos” of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
Ralph Abernathy hugs a supporter after being arrested for participating in the boycott
By January, what effect was the boycott having on the bus company and on downtown businesses? How did these results in turn put pressure on Mayor Gayle?
What tactics did the Mayor use to try to end the boycott without giving in to the demands of the black community?
What was King’s response to the bombing of his house? What did he urge his supporters to do (or not do)?
What other scare tactics and violence were used against the boycotters?
In February, what legal tactic was used to charge 115 blacks, including King, other ministers, and all of the carpool drivers, with a crime? What did the city officials offer in exchange for dropping the charges? What was Reverend Abernathy’s response?
What did King, who was safely out of town, decide to do? Why was this a tough decision?
Instead of waiting to be arrested individually, what did the indicted boycotters decide to do? Who was first to be arrested and what happened to him?
Describe the mood of the crowd that gathered at the courthouse as more boycotters turned themselves in to be arrested. How did they react when King returned to town to be arrested?
Why was being arrested thought to be “a badge of honor?”
While the boycott was taking place, what was going on with the Rosa Parks case? How did Fred Gray move the issue of bus segregation to the federal courts?
Cause and Effect (how one effect becomes the next cause; how effects are often hard to predict before the fact)
Compare and contrast (how you might think being arrested would be scary, but in this case it turned out to be an important event in the public relations battle because it showed how much the city had overreacted to the situation and how badly they were being beaten)
Author’s craft (where does the emotion in this chapter come from)
Chapter 7 – Walking to Victory(pp. 75-88 – 13 pages)
Far from intimidating the boycotters, the mass arrests had inspired them to continue on. The story was gaining wider press attention nationally and internationally. King’s trial began in March and was seen by prosecutors as a test case. King was found guilty, but the judge treated him “with great courtesy” and handed down the minimum sentence possible. In June, a federal court ruled in favor of the boycott leaders and declared that Alabama’s laws requiring bus segregation were unconstitutional. The ruling was immediately appealed to the Supreme Court and while that was taking place, the segregation laws would remain and the boycott would continue. Despite arrests, bombings, and harassment, this ruling once again energized the boycott. More bombings took place, and the White Citizens Council tried a different strategy to hobble the boycott by pressuring insurance companies into canceling coverage for the car pool vehicles. Insurance was arranged through other means. In November, city officials decided they would try to get the state to declare the car pools illegal. But before that decision could be made, the Supreme Court had agreed with the lower court and declared bus segregation unconstitutional. During the five weeks between the ruling and its implementation, the car pools were declared illegal but the boycott continued. Boycott leaders worked hard to get black citizens ready for post-segregation busing. They taught non-violent techniques and used role-playing to get them ready to interact with possibly hostile passengers and drivers. “If there is to be violence in word or deed, it must not be our people who commit it” was the advice that was offered. In December, the bus integration order went into effect. King addressed a crowd, asking them to resist segregation with only non-violent means. King himself was one of the first to ride on the day that segregation ended on the Montgomery buses.
Black citizens walk instead of riding the bus
Cheering crowd greets boycott organizers
A smiling King is kissed by his wife while supporters cheer
A station wagon used by a church-sponsored carpool
King and Abernathy outside the Montgomery courthouse
King and Abernathy riding the Montgomery bus the day segregated bus service ended in Montgomery on December 21, 1956
How did the mass arrests affect the boycott locally, nationally and internationally?
What happened at King’s trial in March 1956? Of those arrested, why was he the only one put on trial? How did the judge treat King? How was King greeted after the trial? What role did the NAACP play at this point?
What happened in June that gave the boycotters hope? Why did they have to keep up the boycott?
What new strategies did the White Citizens Council try in November to again stop the boycott? Why would this strategy probably mean the end of the boycott?
What good news did the boycotters receive just before carpools were legally banned?
How did the boycotters celebrate their victory?
Explain the meaning of the two Bible passages used at one of the rallies (p. 84) – what do they mean on their own, and how were they especially meaningful to the boycotters?
Why and how did the boycott continue for the next five weeks?
What “preparation” did black bus riders receive to get them ready for post-segregation busing?
What was the mayor’s reaction to the bus integration law?
What advice did King give the crowds at the celebration the night before bus segregation was officially outlawed in Montgomery?
Describe King’s bus ride on December 21, 1956.
Author’s bias (a statement like “It would be so simple. Anyone would be able to sit in any vacant seat.” is loaded with bias)
Author’s craft (how does he create suspense and tension just before the news of the Supreme Court’s decision is delivered?)
Supreme Court ruling on Alabama’s bus segregation laws, 1956
Chapter 8 – The Children Coming On…(pp. 89-99 – 10 pages)
Freedman argues that the Montgomery bus boycott was the beginning of what he calls “the modern civil rights movement.” There was opposition to this change: King’s house windows were blown out with a shotgun blast. Blacks were beaten and shot. Homes and churches were bombed. The lessons and spirit of the boycott spread across the south as college students staged “sit-ins” at segregated diners and “freedom riders” rode buses through the south to test the implementation of the Supreme Court decision. Violence also spread – protesters were beaten and chased with snarling dogs and sometimes killed. King was arrested a number of times and was stabbed by a deranged woman. A church in Birmingham was bombed by Klan members, killing four girls. Three civil rights workers in Mississippi were murdered by Klan members. Years of protest and resistance led to a civil rights march in 1963 where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination in public facilities, government, and employment; encouraged the desegregation of public schools; and ended Jim Crow segregation laws in the south. This was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed poll taxes, literacy tests and other things that kept people from voting. The book concludes by describing the post-boycott lives of many of the key players, including King (assassinated in 1968), Robinson, Colvin, and Parks.
Civil rights marchers walking on a road between Selma and Montgomery
Abernathy and a fellow minister at the wreckage at Abernathy’s house following a bombing in 1957
A black teenager is attacked by a dog during a protest in Birmingham in 1963
Four girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963
King holds a photo of three civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964
Civil rights workers waving flags at the end of the Montgomery march in 1965
Freedom Riders with protest signs on a bus
Man removes sign requiring segregated seating on buses
What kinds of opposition did black bus riders face in Montgomery after the law changed?
What kinds of protests and resistance to racism did the boycott inspire across the South? How did segregationist and other racists respond to these attempts at change?
Describe the two federal laws were passed in 1964 and 1965 that marked “the highest achievement of the civil rights movement”?
What happened to the following people who played such an important role in the bus boycott: Martin Luther King, Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon?
What did E.D. Nixon mean when he said, “The children coming on behind us ought to know the truth about this.”
Cause and Effect (the end of bus segregation didn’t mean the end of problems; how the bus boycott inspired other protests; how the protests led to changes in federal law)
Birmingham church bombing
Civil Rights March on Washington 1963
“I Have a Dream” speech
Civil Rights Act 1964
Voting Rights Act 1965
Each chapter starts with a brief quote. For each quote, explain who said it, what it refers to, and speculate as to why the author chose to use it.
There are a lot of people mentioned in this book. Design a chart of the major “characters” of this story to explore their roles and characteristics, then examine it to see which people had some things in common.
Create a timeline of the boycott.
Communicating about the boycott and about ride sharing among Montgomery’s black community was challenging. How might modern technology have helped or changed the nature of the boycott?
Non-violent passive resistance was not the only possible reaction the African Americans of Montgomery could have chosen. What other ways could they have protested or attacked against the city and against the bus company? What factors made non-violence so effective in this case?
Discuss the role that leadership played in this boycott’s success. How might things have gone if there hadn’t been an E.D. Nixon or a Martin Luther King present to guide and shape the nature of the boycott?
The boycott did not have advantages in money or connections. What kinds of organizations were most important to the formation and success of the boycott?
The struggle for equal treatment under the law has long been one of states’ rights versus the federal government. Explain how the Montgomery bus boycott is yet another example of that struggle.