Civil Rights Movement
The Birth Of The Civil Rights Movement
On December 1, 1955, ROSA PARKS was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. News of Parks's arrest quickly spread through the African American community. Parks had worked as a secretary for the local branch of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE. Because she was a well-respected and dignified figure in the community, her arrest was finally enough to persuade African Americans that they could no longer tolerate racially discriminatory laws.
After exchanging phone calls, a group of African American women, the Women's Political Council, decided to call for a boycott of the city buses as a response to this outrage. This suggestion was greeted with enthusiasm by local African American leaders, including the influential black clergy.
On December 5, members of the African American community rallied at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery and decided to carry out the boycott. Their resolve was inspired by the words of the Reverend MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
"We are here this evening," King declared to the packed church, "to say to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired—tired of being segregated and humiliated; tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression." He went on to make a case for peace and nonviolence. Contrasting the methods of nonviolence that he envisioned for a civil rights movement, to the methods of violence used by the racist and terrorist KU KLUX KLAN, King declared,
in our protest there will be no cross burnings…. We will be guided by the highest principles of law and order. Our method will be that of persuasion, not coercion. We will only say to the people, "Let conscience be your guide" … [O]ur actions must be guided by the deepest principles of our Christian faith. Love must be our regulating ideal. Once again we must hear the words of Jesus echoing across the centuries: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you."
With these words and these events, the long, difficult struggle of the CIVIL RIGHTS movement began.
Another catalyzing event occurred on December 1, 1955, when ROSA PARKS, an African American woman, was arrested after she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. The law required African Americans to sit in the back of city buses and to give up their seats to whites should the white section of the bus become full. The city's black residents, long tired of the indignities of SEGREGATION, began a boycott of city buses. They recruited King, a 27-year-old preacher, to head the Montgomery Improvement Association, the group which organized the boycott. The African Americans of Montgomery held out for nearly a year despite violence—including the bombing of King's home—directed at them by angry whites. This violence was repugnant to many whites and actually increased support for the civil rights movement among them. The boycott finally achieved its goal on November 13, 1956, when the Supreme Court, in Gayle v.
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