Today, Rosa Parks, born Rosa McCauley on Feb. 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Ala., is known as a civil rights icon. But on Dec. 1, 1955 she was deemed a criminal after refusing to give her bus seat to a white passenger and subsequently arrested for breaking Alabama's segregation laws. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system, led by a relatively unknown 27-year-old minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott crippled the bus system, as 70 percent of everyday riders were black.
In June 1956, King spoke at the 47th Annual NAACP Convention in San Francisco, giving a speech known as "The Montgomery Story." King's remarks in favor of the bus boycott were published in U.S. News & World Report on Aug. 3, 1956, along with a counter-argument by the Editor-in-Chief of The Mongomery Advertiser, Grover C. Hall, Jr.
In November 1956, the Supreme Court banned segregation on public transportation. On Dec. 20, Montgomery was ordered to integrate its buses.
Parks died on Oct. 24, 2005, and was the first woman to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 3, 1956, issue of U.S. News & World Report.
PRO and CON
Alabama's Bus Boycott: WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
For eight months Negroes in Montgomery, Ala., have maintained a boycott against that city's buses because races are segregated in seating. This has become one of the nation's major tests on the issue of segregation.
In the texts presented here, this boycott is discussed and evaluated by two men on opposite sides of the dispute. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister in Montgomery, states the Negro side, and Grover C. Hall, Jr., editor in chief of The Montgomery Advertiser, answers Dr. King.
The questions they raise, however, go far beyond the Montgomery bus boycott. Dr. King describes the bus dispute as only a part of a continuous and growing struggle by Negroes for full equality. In this struggle, he says, Negroes "cannot afford to slow up."
Mr. Hall calls the boycott a "supreme folly" on the part of the Negroes. He says the result is a hardening of attitude among the whites, who dare not yield on buses "lest they lie routed in the schools."
At 27, Dr. King has become a leader in his race's fight for integration. He heads the organization directing the boycott. Mr. Hall has won national attention by pointing out that segregation exists also in the North.
PRO: Remarks in Favor of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
By the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
President of the Montgomery Improvement Association
I come to you this evening to tell the dramatic story of a handsome little town that for years has been known as the Cradle of the Confederacy. It is the story of a town which has become overnight one of the world's most fascinating cities. It is the story of a Negro community grappling with a new and creative approach to the crisis in race relations. It is impossible, however, to understand the Montgomery story without understanding the larger story of the radical change in the Negro's evaluation of himself. A brief survey of the history of the Negro in America reveals this change in terms that are crystal-clear.
It was in the year of 1619 that the first Negro slaves landed on the shores of this nation. They were brought here from the soils of Africa, and unlike the Pilgrim Fathers who landed at Plymouth a year later, they were brought here against their wills. For more than two hundred years, Africa was raped and plundered, her native kingdoms disorganized, her people and rulers demoralized, and the whole continent inflicted with pains and burdens hardly paralleled by any other race in the history of the civilized world.
Throughout slavery, the Negro was treated in a very inhuman fashion. He was considered a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. He was merely a depersonalized cog in a vast plantation machine. The famous Dred Scott decision of 1857 clearly expressed the status of the Negro during slavery. In this decision, the United States Supreme Court affirmed that the Negro was not a citizen of the United States; he was merely property subject to the dictates of his owner.
With the growth of slavery, it became necessary to give some defense for it. It seems to be a fact of life that human nature cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some rationalization, which will help to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness. This is exactly what the slaveowners did. They fell victim to the danger that forever confronts religion and a too-literalistic interpretation of the Bible. There is always the danger that religion and the Bible not properly interpreted can be used as forces to crystalize the status quo. This is exactly what happened.
It was argued from pulpits that Negroes were inferior by nature because of Noah's curse upon the children of Ham. Paul's command, "Servant, be obedient to your master," became a watchword. One parson could state in terms almost comparable to an Aristotelian syllogism, "Man is made in the image of God; God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro, therefore, the Negro is not a man."
In time, many Negroes lost faith in themselves and came to believe that perhaps they were inferior. The tragedy of physical slavery was that it gradually led to the paralysis of mental slavery. So long as the Negro was willing to accept this place assigned to him, racial peace was maintained. But it was an uneasy peace in which the Negro was forced patiently to accept injustice, insult and exploitation.
Then something happened to the Negro. The Negro masses began to re-evaluate themselves. The Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of his children, and that every man, from a bass black to a treble white, is significant on God's keyboard. He could now cry out with the eloquent poet:
Fleecy locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature's claim
Skin may differ, but affection
Dwells in black and white the same
And were I so tall as to reach the pole
Or to grasp the ocean at a span,
I must be measured by my soul,
The mind is the standard of the man.
With this new self-respect and new sense of dignity on the part of the Negro, the South's negative peace was rapidly undermined. The extreme tension which we are witnessing in race relations in the South today is to be explained basically by the revolutionary change in the Negro's evaluation of his nature and destiny and his determination to struggle and sacrifice until the walls of injustice crumble.
This is at the bottom the meaning of what is happening in Montgomery. You can never understand the bus protest in Montgomery without understanding that there is a brand-new Negro in the South, with a new sense of dignity and destiny. Over the years, the bus situation has been one of the sore spots of Montgomery. If a visitor had come to Montgomery prior to last December, he would have found bus operators referring to Negro passengers as "niggers," "black crows," and "black apes." He would have noticed quite frequently Negro passengers paying fares at the front doors, and then being forced to get off and board the bus by the rear door. Often the bus pulled off with the Negro passenger's dime in the box before he got to the rear door.
Above all, the visitor would have noticed Negroes standing over empty seats. These unoccupied seats were reserved for "whites only." Even if the bus had no white passengers, and Negro passengers were packed throughout the bus, they were prohibited from sitting in the first four seats, which hold about 10 persons. But the practice went even further. 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, were asked to stand up so that the white passengers could be seated. If Negro passengers refused to stand up and move back, they were arrested.
0n Dec. 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to move back when she was ordered to do so by the bus driver. The interesting thing is that Mrs. Parks was not seated in any of the 10 spaces reserved for whites, as has often been mistakenly reported, but in the first seat of the unreserved section.
At the time, every seat was taken in the bus. This meant that if Mrs. Parks had followed the driver's command, she would have had to stand up while a white male passenger, who had just boarded the bus, would sit. Mrs. Parks—in a quiet, calm and dignified manner, so characteristic of her radiant personality—refused to follow the command of the driver. The result was her arrest.
The trial was set for the following Monday, December 5.
Out of nowhere, it seems, mimeographed leaflets appeared in the Negro community, saying: "... This must be stopped... Every Negro stay off the buses Monday in protest of this arrest and trial...." The word got around amazingly well.
On Sunday, December 4, practically every minister endorsed the proposed protest with hearty enthusiasm.
Then came Monday, December 5. All day long the buses were empty. Negro passengers, who constituted about 75 percent of the bus riders, were now united. From the first day, even to the present, the protest has been more than 99 percent effective.
Feeling the need for some guiding organization behind the protest, ministers of all Protestant faiths and various civic leaders came together on the afternoon of December 5 and organized the Montgomery Improvement Association. From the beginning, this organization, under the leadership of some of the finest ministers and laymen of the community, has guided and directed the protest.
The Negro ministers had called a city-wide mass meeting for Monday evening. Hours before the meeting, hundreds of people had started assembling at the Holt Street Baptist Church. By 7 o'clock it was reported that more than 5,000 persons were jammed in the church and overflowing into the street. At this meeting, this vast audience unanimously adopted the following resolution: Negroes were not to resume riding the buses until (1) courteous treatment by bus operators was guaranteed, (2) passengers were seated on a first-come, first-served basis—Negroes seated from the back of the bus toward the front and whites seated from the front toward the back; (3) Negro bus operators were employed on predominantly Negro routes.
And so the one-day protest passed into an indefinite protest that has lasted for more than six months.
The picture is becoming clear now. There had been a long history of injustices on the buses of Montgomery. Almost everybody could point to an unfortunate experience that he himself had had or seen.
But there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of exploitation where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. The story of Montgomery is the story of 50,000 Negroes who are tired of injustice and oppression and who are willing to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk and walk and walk until the sagging walls of injustice have been finally crushed by the battering rams of historical necessity.
How Car Pool Was Organized
One of the first practical problems to arise in the bus protest was the question of how the ex-bus riders would get about the city. This problem was first met by calling on the taxis for cheap-rate jitney service. The police commissioner immediately stopped this by warning the taxis that they must charge a minimum fare of 45 cents. In reply, a volunteer car pool was organized. Almost overnight, Montgomery saw more than 300 private cars spread over the city, picking up and depositing passengers, from early morning to late evening.
This system worked amazingly well. Even Commissioner Sellers [Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers] had to admit in a White Citizens Council meeting that the system moved with "military precision." This transportation system has continued to grow and expand. More than 20 station wagons have been added to the pool. These station wagons work hourly, transporting the people free of charge. The transportation system has grown to the point that it is costing us, along with the running of an office, more than $5,000 per week. We have been able to meet these financial obligations through contributions from the local community in mass meetings and persons and organizations of good will all over the nation and over the world.
From the beginning, the City Commission and the reactionary element of the white community sought to block the protest. Several methods were used. First there was the attempt to negotiate us into a compromise. Then came the attempt to conquer by dividing. Through this method, false rumors were spread concerning the leaders of the movement, and there was the attempt to establish petty jealousy among the leaders.
After these methods did not work, the mayor and the other commissioners announced a "get tough" policy. This turned out to be a campaign of arrests for minor and imaginary traffic violations. The next method was that of actual physical violence. It was during this period that my home was bombed. A few nights, the home of Mr. E.D. Nixon was bombed. Finally came the mass indictments, which included all of the leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association. The indictments were based on an old antilabor law of doubtful constitutionality. I was tried on the basis of this law and found guilty. And yet the protest still moves on.
Instead of these methods serving to block the protest, they served to give it greater momentum. All of this reveals that the Negro in the South has been freed from the paralysis of crippling fear. This again is a characteristic of the new Negro.
From the beginning, there has been a basic philosophy undergirding the movement. It is a philosophy of nonviolent resistance. It is simply a refusal, in a nonviolent sense, to cooperate with the evil of segregation. We, as a race, cannot think in terms of retaliatory violence. The attempt to use the method of violence in our struggle would be both impractical and immoral. Violence creates many more problems than it solves. There is a voice crying through the vista of time saying:
"He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword." History is replete with the bleached bones of nations which failed to follow this truth. So we decided to choose nonviolence.
Along with this insistence on nonviolence goes the emphasis on love as the regulating ideal. In our struggle for justice, we have refused to succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in a hate campaign.
We are not out to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to help him as well as ourselves. The festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. And so our struggle in Montgomery is not to win a victory over the white man. The real tension is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory it will be a victory not merely for 50,000 Negroes, but a victory for justice, freedom and democracy. This is at bottom the meaning of Christian love. It is understanding good will for all men. It seeks nothing in return. It is that love which loves the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed which he does.
Also basic in the philosophy of our movement is a deep faith in the future. We have the strong feeling that in our struggle we have cosmic companionship. This is why our movement is often referred to as a spiritual movement. We feel that the universe is on the side of right. There is something in this universe which justifies Carlyle in saying: "No lie can live forever." There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying: "Truth crushed to earth will rise again." There is something in this universe which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying:
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
This is the faith that keeps us going in Montgomery. And so we can walk and never get weary because we know that there is a great camp meeting in the promised land of freedom and justice.
This, in brief, is just the introduction to a story which cannot possibly be told in a speech. It is the expression of a new and creative method which might be added to the several methods which we must use to make integration a reality.
We must continue the struggle through legislation. No one should underestimate the power of this method. We must continue to gain the ballot, and urge the executive and the legislative branches of our Government to follow the example so courageously set by the judicial branch. Also, we must depend on the growing group of white liberals, both North and South, who are still willing to take a stand for justice.
"We Must Work" for Integration
But in the final analysis, the problem of obtaining full equality is a problem for which the Negro himself must assume the primary responsibility. Integration will not be some lavish dish that the white man will pass out on a silver platter, while the Negro furnishes merely the appetite. If integration is to be a reality, we must be willing to work hard for it, sacrifice for it, and even die for it if necessary.
I have no doubt that by 1963 we will have won the legal battle. On May 17, 1954, segregation confronted its legal death. But, after the legal battle is won, there is the great problem of lifting the noble precepts of our Constitution from the dusty files of unimplemented court decisions. The problem of implementation will be carried out mainly by the Negro's refusal to cooperate with segregation.
Wherever segregation exists we must be willing to rise up in mass and protest courageously against it. I realize that this type of courage means suffering and sacrifice. It might mean going to jail. If such is the case we must honorably fill up the jailhouses of the South. It might even lead to physical death. But if such physical death is the price that we must pay to free our children from a life of permanent psychological death, then nothing could be more honorable. This is really the meaning of the method of passive resistance. It confronts physical force with an even stronger force, namely, soul force.
This method is not altogether new. It was tried by a little brown man in India. Through the power of this method, Mahatma Gandhi was able to free his people from the political domination, the economic exploitation, and the humiliation inflicted upon them by Britain.
My final plea to you is to keep moving toward the goal of integration. Let's not fool ourselves: We are far from the promised land, both North and South. In the South, we still confront segregation in its glaring conspicuous forms. In the North, we confront it in its hidden and subtle forms. Segregation is still a fact.
It is true that segregation is on its deathbed. But history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power. And the guardians of the status quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to preserve the dying order. But, if democracy is to live, segregation must die. The underlying philosophy of democracy is diametrically opposed to the underlying philosophy of segregation, and all the dialectics of the logicians cannot make them lie down together. Segregation is a cancer in the body politic which must be removed before our democratic health can be realized.
I am mindful of the fact that there are those who are telling us to slow up and to adopt a policy of moderation. Now if moderation means pressing on for justice with wise restraint and calm reasonableness, then it is a virtue which all must seek to achieve in this tense period of transition. But if moderation means slowing up in the move toward freedom and capitulating to the whims and caprices of the guardians of a deadening status quo, then moderation is a tragic vice which all men of good will must condemn.
We cannot afford to slow up. We have a moral obligation to press on. We have our self-respect to maintain. But, even more, we must press on because of our love for America and the democratic way of life.
1.6 Billion Colored People
Out of the 2.4 billion peoples of the world, 1.6 billion are colored. Most of these 1.6 billion colored people have lived under the pressing yoke of colonialism and imperialism. But now most of them are free, and they are determined not to follow any nation that exploits and oppresses any of its citizens.
If America doesn't press for justice and freedom, we will wake up and find the uncommitted peoples of the world in the hands of a communistic ideology. But, even more, we must press on because freedom and justice are ethical demands of the universe. America's motive for giving the Negro freedom must not be merely to compete with godless Communism. It must be done, in the final analysis, not because it is diplomatically expedient but because it is morally compelling.
So we must press on because it is morally right to press on.
The motor is now cranked up, we are moving up the highway of freedom toward the city of equality, and we can't afford to slow up because we have a date with destiny. Let us keep moving.
"Goal Line" of Civil Rights
As I come to a close, I would like to refer to and somewhat extend an analogy that was once used by the late Walter White. Since the turn of the century we have brought the football of civil rights to about the 50-yard line. And now we are advancing in the opposition's territory. The problem for the next few years will be to get the ball across the goal line.
Let's not fool ourselves: This job will be difficult. The opposition will use all the power and force possible to prevent our advance. He will strengthen his line on every hand. But if we place good leaders in the backfield to call the signals and run the ball, and good followers on the line to make the way clear, we will be able to make moves that will stagger and astound the imagination of the opposition.
Some mistakes will be made, yes; we might even fumble the ball, but, for God's sake, recover it! Teamwork and unity are necessary for the winning of any game. In this area it means a recognition of the fact that every segment of the Negro race is significant. The backfield must recognize that it needs the men on the line who must make the way clear for the players to move forward. So, away with our class systems that so easily separate us. Remember the highest will not rise without the lowest. So, let us get together and, with great teamwork in the next few years, we will be able to carry the football of civil rights across the goal.
This is our profound challenge and lasting responsibility. We must continue to move on in the face of every obstacle. This is expressed quite meaningfully in Langston Hughes' memorable poem, "Mother to Son":
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Well, life for none of us has been a crystal stair. But we must keep moving. If you can't fly, run; if you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl—but, by all means, keep moving.
Foregoing is full text of a speech, "The Montgomery Story," by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Ala., made June 27, 1956, at San Francisco, before the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
CON: Remarks Opposing the Montgomery Bus Boycott
By Grover C. Hall, Jr.
Editor in Chief, "The Montgomery Advertiser"
The possibility of desegregated buses is more remote than it was eight months ago.
The bus line was 70 per cent Negro in patronage. Into that percentage of the bus gas tanks, Dr. King has funneled a paralytic dose of sugar. But for white patrons, the buses roll on—charging enough additional fare to remind whites of the neo-Gandhi and the compassionate "love" he expresses for them.
The bus company fisc is pale from this bloodletting, but it recently renewed its franchise for 10 years. My understanding is that National City Lines would like to quit, but will not, since it operates lines in other Southern cities and cannot afford to lose the first battle lest it lose the last.
One way or the other, whites will continue to ride segregated. Negroes will continue to ride in a pool of 200 cars and 14 station wagons, so long as the sumptuary ardor of Northern citizens maintains a flow of $5,000 a week to the car pool. This could go on for years, with the whites hurting not at all, except for the bus line that is largely a Negro utility. There is absolutely no pressure whatever to lift the boycott. So, for Dr. King, the "lone and level sands stretch far away."
In Dr. King's hortatory emissions, he explains that "He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword." Perhaps, as time goes on for the young man, he will have occasion, in lapses of euphoria, to ponder another wise saw, secular but arresting: "Who draws his sword upon a prince must throw away the scabbard."
This way or that, the whites are going to ride. There isn't going to be any desegregation of buses for, before that, the bus line would be abolished. The question for Dr. King is, therefore, how long he can maintain his jitney transportation for his 50,000 followers. If, a year or two from now, the Negro car pool strips its gears and conks out—well, Dr. King is in charge of the Contingency Division of the bus boycott, and I will not intrude.
But meanwhile, everybody is riding to work on one of the two bus lines, and Montgomery continues to get its share of the world's work done without loss of efficiency. Whites no longer talk about the bus boycott. That Negroes do not ride the buses in Montgomery is established as a virtual folkway. We white devils are offering passive resistance, though we do not talk quite so much about "love" as Dr. King.
Relations between individual whites and blacks are courteous and easy. The boycott is disembodied between the Negroes' arrival and departure from work. There is no violence, which probably means that the good sense of whites and blacks has providentially prevailed, begetting a Pax Atomica.
For the Negroes, the boycott movement is festive and exhilarating, like being in the Citizens for Eisenhower, or perhaps like riding with the prioress of the Pilgrimage to Canterbury. It is nice to be picked up by one of those gay, spruce station wagons. Wishes are horses, so long as the self-righteous Northern white continues to exalt himself, in his mirror, by sending his dough South to get Eliza across the ice.
Anyhow, there you have the Gandhian host riding to and from work in chartered cars and station wagons, and quite mirthful. In his fund-raising encyclicals Dr. King describes his fleet with rightful pride, but in the same passage he speaks with feeling of the "tired, tired, tired feet." The sober boycott observer will ask, "Does this mean that the Negro feet are tired from boycotting their station wagons?"
The Harriet Stowe press of the Northern U.S., Europe and Asia has rapturously consigned Dr. King and his pedestrian host to the ages as a latter-day Xenophon and the 10,000. Not for a moment do I seek to disvalue the remarkable efficiency, unity and steadfastness that make the boycott possible, but for those interested in descriptive accuracy, I suggest they remark the phenomenon—not in terms of the pedestrian 10,000 immortalized in the "Anabasis"—but in terms of something most mobile, like the Paris taxicab army.
Who is the godhead of this Montgomery boycott whose bonfire has cast its glow over the United States? Before his ordination in the world's press as the coadjutor of Gandhi and the legatee of Thoreau, he was the Rev. M. L. King, Jr. But now, of course, he is invariably the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Further, he has grown so large in the NAACP hierarchy as evidently to have nettled the grand panjandrum, Thurgood Marshall, for I noticed that when they spoke to the multitude in California recently and Dr. King rolled around on his tongue the suggestion of a Negro boycott of Montgomery schools, Marshall referred to his celebrated colleague as a boy on a man's errand.
It was not plain in the inchoate stage of the boycott who was the authoritative leader. Many Montgomerians, who in the early stages were as frantic and demoralized as the Frenchmen watching their Maginot Line turn into a highway, thought the leader was E. D. Nixon, the Negro Pullman porter and NAACP grenadier who kept Governor Williams of Michigan from addressing a Birmingham Democratic dinner because he was denied admission.
The truth is that Nixon, a courageous, fuming white-hater, deserved the most credit for uncorking the boycott and he was a veteran of the street-fighting, prerevolutionary days before Dr. King had earned his degree of doctor of systematic theology from Boston University. Nixon was the first Negro to offer for public office in Montgomery since Reconstruction.
In those happier, preboycott times, The Montgomery Advertiser gave Nixon support with an elaborate biographical sketch. He ran a good race. But soon after the boycott became an international event, Nixon was lost in the shuffle and the more elaborately equipped Dr. King became the acknowledged leader.
Dr. King's Baptist church is around the corner from my shop, but we have met only one time. His church is hard by the State Capitol and fronts Dexter Avenue, along which Jefferson Davis rode to his inauguration. In my somewhat overtasked capacity last spring as duenna and Indian guide to more than a hundred reporters of the international press, I escorted Peter Kihss of The New York Times to the appointment made for him with Dr King.
Dr. King is brown, small, fashionably dressed, and looks 35 rather than 27. I soon discovered that, had he chosen to heed the call of dilettante rather than minister, he would have been soundly equipped to do so. His facial features are Negroid altogether, with somewhat protrusive eyes which bat wide when he looks up with a sideways visionary sweep. His fingers are long and well machined, and I understand that he plays the piano well—sonatas, I imagine.
Dr. King is largely inscrutable to me. I do know, however, that he is an authentic intellectual. He is able, energetic and as ready to die in the boycott as General Patton in a tank (as a matter of fact, there is a conspicuous thread of thanatopsis in his statements). He is a third-generation minister of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
I would say that in Montgomery, as in Alabama, both the white and Negro communities are in the grip of fantasies—and still more does that apply to the Northern people and its press.
White Montgomery was completely unprepared for all that the boycott presented. At first, it kidded itself into believing that the basic reason the Negroes wouldn't ride the buses was because they were afraid of reprisals.
There was a pronounced tendency to believe that, since you had lent your Negro maid $10 last year or bailed her husband out of jail, she was violating an indenture and hence an ungrateful child to boycott the bus.
There was a ridiculous persuasion that the Negroes were happy in their state. There was an astonishing unawareness of the Negro's economic power.
Naturally the Bible was quoted to show that bus segregation was God's ordinance.
I asked one frantic lady who phoned, "How do you know that the Communists are running the boycott?" She replied, "It just stands to reason."
There was, and is, a persuasion that if only the NAACP could be dissolved, all would return to normal, which ignores the conspicuous fact that the NAACP wouldn't amount to a hill of beans without the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the Federal Government.
The more excited the whites became, the greater their follies. The dumbest act that was ever done in Montgomery was the arrest of the 90-odd Negro preachers for violation of a State boycott law. Everybody now concedes that this was dumb.
But the Negro, rocking and rolling in his fantasy, did some things that were dumber.
His leaders and he let themselves come to think that what they sought could be had purely by dispensations from the courts, Congress and the White House.
They had bought this as their emancipated ancestors bought from the carpetbaggers the "painted sticks" which, thrust into the earth, supposedly made them the proprietor of 40 acres. Lost to sight is the verity that they must, like any immigrant group, work their passage from the present state, which is proclaimed by the welfare rolls and crime statistics in Cleveland, Washington, New York and Buffalo.
But the supreme folly for the Negro was boycotting the buses before he was registered to vote in significant numbers. Before the boycott strife and the "Scottsboro girl" incident at the University of Alabama, the orderly registration of qualified Negroes was proceeding. The rules were not the same for Negroes as for whites, but they were voting in swelling numbers.
Gov. James E. Folsom, the first Southern demagogue since Tom Watson to ally with the Negro, was recently exterminated at the polls, and so was every candidate on his slate. This informed every politician in Alabama that the Negro vote was now a bar sinister that must be repudiated without hesitation or qualification. There are 40,000 to 50,000 Negro voters in Alabama—about 2,000 in Montgomery County—but it is doom for any politician caught treating with their leaders.
I cannot assess the long-range results of Dr. King's boycott, but I demonstrate that he deserves almost all the credit for organizing the White Citizens Council in Alabama. Before the boycott, the Council was inconsequential and disdained. Dr. King's membership drive is bringing the total up to the 100,000 mark. State Senator Sam Engelhardt tells me that things are dull right now because the whites have forgotten there is a boycott on.
But an even more signal achievement of Dr. King in this realm was the recent Advertiser poll of Alabama's congressional delegation on whether members were available to address Citizens Council rallies. As one man, they stated that they would address Council rallies. That includes Senator Lister Hill and, above all, the 1952 vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Senator John Sparkman.
What the Resistance has lacked hitherto is brains among the leadership. The keener, more responsible people have shied from taking the field because they shied from associating with what might become unsavory and because they have latent sympathy for the grievances of the Negro, all of which are in the ameliorative process but are yet numerous and real. The paranoid rasping of the NAACP and the opportunistic orgies of Northern politicians are venom doing their work. The Southern Moderate is as nearly extinct as the whooping crane—I used to be one myself in a happier time. The Southern Moderate has shifted to the defense against the ignorant and self-righteous jingo. That means an infusion of brains of the kind that checkmated and wore down the Federal Government in the 1870s.
The retired Moderate, in brief periods of surcease from the cacophony of the holy rollers, is qualmsy about his new role as a foxhole infantryman holding the line. He eases himself with two realities: Segregation, for the time, is a necessity of public order (he does not want to maintain nearly 80 cops around the clock to guard the lives of 23 Negro families as is the case in Chicago this minute) and, also, he sees the obvious truth that the Negro's process is not much handicapped, and certainly not estopped, by segregation.
It is true that the nine most famous and puissant sociologists in the republic—protégés grateful of the Swede Myrdal—have ruled that the Negro cannot develop without exposure to the superior white, but behold the instantaneous example of that product of Georgia segregation, that world figure, sonata player, master of the Hegelian dialectic, Dr. King, no less.
Why can't the slobbering visionaries see that the only true measure of the Negro's progress is to stand him beside his grandfather? Then line up the next two generations. The velocity of ascent is domonstrated.
Now, I don't know, any more than a sociologist or an anthropologist, to what level the Negro can rise, or whether he can resist reverting to Liberian status when bereft of white influence. But what I see in Montgomery assures me that the Negro will surely develop to such a level that, for the tests of citizen competence, the question is purely academic.
I do not know how or when the bus boycott will dissolve, only that the Negroes will not return to the ante-bellum seating arrangement and that the whites will not accept a radically new one. It was a poor area for the whites to make a stand, because the old system was unjust and because the system in other comparable southern cities clearly shows that at one time—now past—an adjustment could have been made without disorder.
Further, there is not a single segregated elevator left in Montgomery: horizontal segregation, vertical desegregation. The pregnant difference is that elevators were made "first come first served" without advertisement as a critical battle in the universal desegregation war.
Bus seating is no longer the real casus belli, but only a symbol of the war. The whites—that includes me—are persuaded they cannot allow themselves to be overwhelmed on this terrain, ill-chosen for strategic and tactical defense though it is, lest they be routed in the schools, which is the citadel.
Both white and colored communities painted themselves into a corner with this strife. And not the least difficulty of deliverance is that both the white and Negro leaders are captives of public opinion in their respective communities.
The only decisive result so far is that Dr. King has established a Montgomery folkway that Negroes do not ride buses. Dr. King, after eight months, can no more ride a desegregated bus in Montgomery than he can purchase a home in Owosso, Mich., or Fairborn, Ohio, or play golf at Burning Tree, even if accompanied by that prominent member, Chief Justice Earl Warren.
I submit that, mainly due to the failure of the U.S. press, this country hasn't even achieved a rational, factual basis for grappling with the problem. You employ a quite imprecise analogy if you point to the abolitionist North and the ante-bellum South, for the latter-day circumstance is that a third of the Negroes are already in the North, with a mighty stream following. Yet the national mind is still thinking of the problem as the Southern one. The Northern press has not adequately reported the reception in the North of Aeneas Africanus. It is engrossed in debate whether it gave Ike more space than Adlai four years ago.
It is a literal statement of fact, as I have this year demonstrated with one telephone and a reporter, that the United States doesn't even know the location of its race problem. The map is without pins, the geography of Jim Crow unknown.
I leave it to you whether I soundly epitomized, with the single example of that loquacious collegian, Gov. G. Mennen Williams of Michigan. He and his Michigan delegation to the Democratic Convention will carry a Michigan civil rights manifesto demanding that the South desegregate immediately if not sooner. When His Excellency departs Lansing, he will be just 39 miles from Owosso, in which there is not a single Negro resident due to real estate exclusion. If he passes through Dearborn, Royal Oak, Wyandotte and a half-dozen other of his constituent cities, he will be passing through cities in which total exclusion of the Negro is a success.
Dearborn is contiguous to Detroit and its half million Negroes, but Mayor Orville Hubbard tells the world he has been maintained in office for 15 years because of the success of the exclusion (in a recent referendum, his salary was almost tripled by a grateful Dearborn). And, as Williams files into Chicago, he will pass close to Trumbull Park, where it takes more police men to guard 23 Negro families than are on guard in all the Confederate States. Then Williams, Michigan manifesto in hip pocket, will take the Convention floor and tear the Democratic Party asunder.
I posses no scimitar that would sever the Gordian knot. There is, or so I suppose, no neat nor sovereign answer to the race problem in either the North or the South or the West. But I do know that the debate has got to cool and its delusive basis supplanted with the realities, some of which are bleak and poignant, like life. As a beginning I would stab in these directions:
1. Southerners would evince their not-unadvertised superiority to the undeveloped colored mass by restraint and coolness in the teeth of the exasperating, rash demands of the Negro and his tedious, officious exploiters among Northern politicians. Southerners would cease exalting what they call the "Southern way of life" into the grandeur of Monticello and the heroism of the Battle of the Clouds; instead the prevailing social system should be matter-of-factly accounted simply the best that long experience has contrived, one which the North has flattered with clandestine, pharisaical imitation. The Southern shibboleth should be kept simple and basic: Go on wishing the Negro well despite his unrealistic aggressions, giving him every assistance even in the face of his taunts, recognizing that the whites have a best interest in his development—so long as it is apart.
2. Every member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors would contribute a chapter in a single volume telling the truth about Negro discrimination in his own town or region. I am not casting spitballs when I declare that the American people do not even know yet where the race problem is on a map. For example, where did you ever hear of Dearborn, Mich., until a newspaper in Alabama stumbled on it?
3. Everybody with an importunate demand for immediate race mixing would consider how many generations it took to provide his mother, sister and daughter with the ballot. That opposition to the woman suffrage was irritation is irrelevant.
4. Everybody would read Cash's "Mind of the South." Then he would dip back into De Tocqueville and ponder that wizard's insight into what exists today as an all-American tragedy. I think William Faulkner would uncock his gats on the streets of Oxford if he thought the nation was reading what Tocqueville wrote a century ago, for it is the key to that which exists:
"I despair of seeing an aristocracy disappear which is founded upon visible and indelible signs... Slavery recedes, but the prejudice to which it has given birth is immovable. Whoever has inhabited the United States must have perceived that in those parts of the Union in which the Negroes are no longer slaves they have in no wise drawn nearer to the whites. On the contrary, the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known."