ARTICLE

Lasting Lessons from the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The time had come. It was Dec. 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the Montgomery public bus. This act led to Parks’ arrest, ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ushered in the new civil rights movement.

The time had come.

It was Dec. 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the Montgomery public bus. This act led to Parks’ arrest, ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ushered in the new civil rights movement.

This week marks the 55th anniversary of that famous boycott. So this is a good time to reflect that change rarely comes by an isolated act. In fact, about a year before Rosa Parks exercised her life-changing defiance, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith each made a similar stand in Montgomery. Other people in Montgomery, like Juliette Hampton Morgan, were already speaking out forcefully against segregation in the South.

By the time Dec. 1, 1955, rolled around, Parks was ready. So was the NAACP. So were civic leaders, pastors and the community. They walked and car-pooled rather than use public buses. Teachers can find out more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and how it inspired other civil rights efforts here.

And on this anniversary, it’s worth remembering that transportation continues to be a civil rights issue. Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, says that cuts in urban transit agencies are disproportionately hurting African-American and Latino communities. Following a meeting on infrastructure last month with President Barack Obama, Blackwell told Streetsblog Capitol Hill:

"Nearly 25 percent of African Americans are without a car, and almost as many Latinos,” she said. “So public transportation is very important in these communities, and it is under severe threat right now in the nation. In 110 cities, or more, public transit routes are at risk, and these are the routes residents use to take their children to school, to go to work, to go shopping."

So the time has come again to speak, to act and to reach for social justice.

Williamson is an associate editor at Teaching Tolerance.