In the early and late 1950s, discrimination against African Americans (AA), especially in South America – still existed even after the Abolition of Slavery in 1865. AA’s were segregated from the rest of the White Americans and were not treated equally and so were unable to experience the freedom the white people had. Jim Crow laws (1877-1954) stated that Black and White people must be segregated from each other at all times (but equal to each other) as also the Political and government roles in the country were led by mainly white people of America who were often biased towards AA.
This hatred towards AA’s sparked events throughout the following years which caused the movement for Civil Rights – to come closer to the truth. However in between those years, the struggle for Civil Rights was defined by multiple but key events which took place signifying the importance of the matter. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was highlighted to be considered one of the most significant events in history in the fight for Civil Rights, as I will further portray in this essay as to why it was significant than events such as the Brown v. Board of Education and Little Rock Nine.
In light of the question, the Montgomery Bus Boycott (MBB) was a crucial event of history in helping attaining Civil Rights for AA’s. On 1st December 1955, Rosa Parks incited a revolution by simply sitting down on a bus and refusing to stand up to allow a seat for a white person as the bus was full, even though she was sat in the ‘coloured section’ (row of seats specifically for AA’s). In [source 3], an image shows how she was later arrested and fined. A Boycott was soon announced by the AA’s community in Montgomery Alabama and was led by Martin Luther King (MLK) who was a significant character in help of achieving equality and freedom.
Many AA’s refused to use buses and would carpool with others as shown in [Source H]. This massive influx of AA’s carpooling, caused economic damage to bus companies and was having a detrimental effect on the monopoly of buses, further exemplifying the big influence AA’s possessed in the current society of America at the time. The Boycott received a lot of media attention for the 381 days it had lasted and now the whole world had become aware of the struggle for basic human rights for the AA’s population living in America, leading to changing of opinions and further consideration.
Not only this, but the invention of television allowed many to listen and watch Martin Luther King’s speech on segregation in the US and influenced those who watched. However it had also strengthened the will to fight for rights such as [source 8] indicates ‘The idea of being arrested and spending the night in prison, for example became a badge of honour (sic)’. This exemplifies how the fear of speaking out has been lost and so forth the influence to resist against inequality has risen in the black community.
Even though many were beginning to understand across the nation, there were some parties such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) who had fought against Civil Rights protesters. This is shown in [Source 10] a cartoon image depicting the Freedom Riders being attacked by the KKK as it shows a Freedom Rider being tied up with the slogan “Freedom is rising in the South”. However the image shows how the KKK are failing to hold him back, reinforcing the fact that the AA’s community are strong as ever in the fight for the removal of segregation.
As a result of the motivation for desegregation, the law was passed on November 13th 1956 and AA’s started to use the bus again. [Source C] shows an image of Rosa Parks on a desegregated bus, sitting anywhere she pleases to, further exemplifying her positive public character in the struggle for Civil Rights. Furthermore, Martin Luther King had also become a prestigious member in leading the Civil Rights Movement. And in fact, he became extremely confident in his influence as this is represented is [Source 16].
This is a letter from MLK to the President Eisenhower and it states, ‘We implore you to re-examine your decision not to speak out to the south on the question of law and order’. Martin Luther King happens to be suggesting to the president on how to react to the discrimination in the south implying the effect MLK has on the President. This letter also exemplifies and shows how MLK had access to the President and can this allows the voice of AA’s to be heard. This bold but tactical move, shows MLK’s dominance and willpower to gain equality for AA’s in America and how significant the Bus Boycott had become as it lead to such chain of events.
In combination with all these sources, they represent the influence of Media, Significance of the Boycott and also the importance of MLK’s role in achieving desegregation in America and the immense struggle to reach equality [Source 25]. On the contrary, even though the Montgomery Bus Boycott had received a lot of attention in the public and lead to desegregation of buses, discrimination was still happening against AA’s and therefore this was not enough to change the structured beliefs of white Americans.
Even though Martin Luther King was very influential, he had ossessed no political power at the time and such important rights were not given to the AA’s like the right for Freedom of Speech. There was no black senator in power at the time and therefore the push for Civil Rights still lingered to be only on the political spectrum – to bring forward the importance of rights for AA’s, which rightfully they should possess living in a hegemonic white society of America. The weakness of the MBB is represented in [Source 13], an image of Martin Luther King’s house bombed by the KKK.
Even though the MBB allowed desegregation to be stopped on buses, people still attacked AA’s in revolt against them to not having civil rights. This is further message is embodied in [Source 45] which states in a sub-title of a newspaper from 1965: ‘Integration, too fast? ’ This happens to recognise that long after the Bus Boycott, people were still in doubt as to if desegregation should even happen years after the Bus Boycott. However, even though not all attitudes towards Civil Rights has not changed, the fight for Civil Rights carried on as the AA’s community would not back down – successfully having the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964.
In comparison to other events, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was still a more significant event in the help of attaining Civil Rights and the desegregation of AA’s. Other events however did have a contributing factor to the cause such as the Brown vs Board of Education (BBE). The BBE was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed state-sponsored segregation, if so far it applied to public education.
On May 17, 1954, the Warren Court’s unanimous (9–0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. ” As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution [Source D]. This ruling allowed integration and could be seen as a victory for the Civil Rights Movement, leading to desegregation in schools. However, the decision’s fourteen pages did not indicate any sort of path for ending racial segregation in schools, and the ruling was not applied proficiently and therefore schools still mainly remained segregated.
This is highlighted in [Source 2], a cartoon by L. D Warren, published in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1954. The cartoon illustrated segregation and how it is not being allowed in public schools. The image shows how the Supreme Court is insulting the notion of equality and unwilling to deal with the issue. Hence, this further suggests that the ruling itself may have been momentous, but it would not have changed anything in the pragmatism of segregation, therefore de jure not de facto.
In addition to this, even after the law was passed, Methods were used to stop or reduce AA’s having to go to school as they would face major backlash and harassment. George Wallace was an avid supporter of desegration not taking place as he also had many supporters. [Source A] states ‘He gained international notoriety for his stand in the door of the University of Alabama to block the entrance of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, who had been order admitted by a federal judge. ’ This highlights how life was still a struggle for many AA’s as people like George Wallace neglected the law.
But also [Source E] stated, ‘In some places, it took more than 10 years for public schools to become integrated. ’ This exemplifies as to how it took for some schools to be in accordance to law, therefore representing the weakness of the MBB. Due to the strong discontent of many Americans to this law, it was never pursued and did not seem to act as a large event in the struggle for Civil Rights especially when compared to the MBB which led to the rise of MLK and gained global coverage of the issue.
This demonstrates how the MBB was a more effective event as it had caused change, demonstrating to AA’s as to how change can be accomplished via peaceful protests. In evaluation of the sources, even though the BBE was an event which harmonised the concept of desegregation for AA’s, the sources prove that the BBE was a one off event which was unable to increase the gain for Civil Rights, exemplified in the sources summarising as to the weakness and the lack of clarity the event possessed. Another event put up against the Montgomery Bus Boycott was Little Rock Nine.
The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine AA’s students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Their enrolment was followed by the Little Rock Crisis, in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas. Faubus had defied the court and had then met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower who enforced him to help protect the teenagers from harm, however after arriving back to Little Rock, his promise was quickly dismissed. This act was in defiance of Federal court orders and the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v.
Board of Education (1954) (further emphasizing the weak impact of the BBE) that called for the racial desegregation of public schools. Faubus’s order set him on a collision course with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. [Source F] states ‘Within hours, the jeering, brick-throwing mob had beaten several reporters and smashed many of the school’s windows and doors. By noon, local police were forced to evacuate the nine students. ’ This source exemplifies the effect caused by the defiance of Faubus, encouraging attacks on AA’s to persist, weakening the cause for equality and desegregation.
Source B] states ‘Eisenhower was criticized both by those who felt he had not done enough to ensure civil rights for AA’s. ’ This shows how the president received backlash due to this event and undermines the political power which the president possesses. This is embodied with [Source F] showing how the president had to take action for Faubus’s mutiny against the president and making him appear as inadequate. In addition, Faubus passed a law to close Little Rock schools [Source G] making students having to study elsewhere, once again not backing down against Equality.
This source shows how Faubus once again uses his powers to delay integration of schools. With all sources combined, this is a prime representation as to how people with higher statuses (like Faubus) were able to use their political power to their own leverage, toughening the battle for AA’s. Due to this, the Little Rock Nine event is actually a catastrophic battle which does not further increase the Civil Rights Movement due to the weakness the AA’s have displayed in fight for this cause.
In comparison to the MBB, this event was not strong enough to incite a full attack against inequality as nothing else had escalated the fight for Civil Rights. In the summary of events, the conclusion remains that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was the most significant event in the fight for Civil Rights in America in the 1950’s. The Bus Boycott was the first event which had a domino effect, leading the path for other events to take place and important people to rise to power such as MLK.
Martin Luther King had further increased the motive for AA’s to fight for desegregation, equality, rights and eventually having the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Nevertheless, the Brown vs Board of Education and Little Rock Nine still contributed to the cause and marginally helped push further for Civil Rights. Yet the MBB was the key turning point which allowed AA’s to feel fearless and ascendant, realising that change can happen peacefully and that discrimination is preventable – as demonstrated by Rosa Parks who decided to stay seated.