To commemorate Women’s history month and to coincide with the current crisis we are experiencing, In this post, we will celebrate the women behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As an active member attempting to make a change in my community, I came across these magnificent women during a conversation about activism and phone calls. What’s so special about them? Without these women, the Bus Boycott would have failed. What did they do? we’re about to find out now.
“People know about Rosa Parks. People know about Martin Luther King Jr. — and they should. And they know that it was the Montgomery bus boycott that ignited a certain kind of Southern civil rights movement,” says Ula Taylor, a professor in the Department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. But, what they might not know, she says, is that it was actually the behind-the-scenes organizing effort by the Women’s Political Council, led by Jo Ann Robinson, that made the boycott successful.” – Berkeley.edu
We all know that Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott that had Martin Luther King became the face of. We know of the historical significance of December 5th, 1955. The day that the 382-day boycott began. However, a fact that is often overshadowed is that the Women’s Political Council led by Jo Ann Robinson were the back bone of the boycott. The boycott that nearly forced bus companies in Montgomery out of business. This resulting in the desegregation of the bus system in Alabama was crafted and meticulously designed by a council of black women. This right here is a recognition of the power of Black women and their ability to not only organize but mobilize without failure.
The way they accomplished this was through a myriad of means. according to an interview on Berkeley.edu, Ula Taylor states that the women kept a critique of all the horrendous ways black people were treated on buses. The women also wrote letters to the bus company and to the mayor of Montgomery. They demanded more humane treatment of Black people while riding buses.
With a council of at least 200 black women backing it, these professional black women held a wide range of positions. these included and were not limited to, working at historically black colleges, teaching, formal educations at historically black colleges. Therefore, their prestige, (if they needed any) was established in this council. In their own right, they deserve the recognition as vanguards of a political process that helped reshape the destiny of all black people as well as history.
“Even though these women were not in the limelight, they were engaging in a form of leadership,” says Taylor. “But because we live in a country in a culture where we oftentimes identify leadership as a talking head, we don’t understand all of the thinking that goes behind a lot of the ideas that the talking head is even articulating.”
These women are leaders we have often forgotten because of the presence of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and we must remember the mark in history they made through organization and demonstration behind the scenes. These women made phone calls, they wrote letters. They did all the dirty work to make the machine that was the civil rights movement run.
Days after the Brown vs. The Board of Education decision, Jo Ann Robinson wrote a letter demanding improved conditions for Black Riders on city’s buses and threatening to boycott if the conditions didn’t improve. a year later, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person, and the Women’s council went into action.
Pulitzer prize-winning historian David Garrow, author of Bearing the Cross, calls it “the most remarkable sheet of paper I had ever seen in some eight years of research on the civil rights movement.” – Ozy.com
Ozy. com also mentions that women at the time took the buses in order to get to work as many of them were domestic servants. Their dependency on buses was significantly more than the men in the community. Therefore, they were subjugated to the harshest of treatments. It’s only right that they become the spearhead for the community that boycotted the buses.
The WPC ( Women’s Political Council) originally was founded by a group of educated black women because the Local League of Women Voters refused to integrate. And they had a myriad of cases of women refusing to abide by the rules of the bus companies. When the Rosa Parks’ incident occurred however, that’s when the council had enough and embraced full action. With the help of Martin Luther King, the Montgomery Bus boycott became a movement that was a pivotal part of the Civil Rights movement in the late 1950s to the 1970s. With around 50,000 plus people boycotting the city’s buses for 382 days the leadership of Montgomery realized the fault in their system and agreed to the demands of the protesters.
“Mayor … three-fourths of the riders of those public conveyances are Negroes. If Negroes did not patronize them, they could not possibly operate.” -Jo Ann Robinson
Thus The Montgomery bus system was desegregated and the unfair treatment of African Americans was halted. And It all began with a council of Women that have been overlooked.
This is to say that we must recognize the powerful leaders that do the dirty work, that handle the necessary components to make movements happen. Without them, we wouldn’t progress. This is also to highlight the power black women hold when they organize and how sophisticated they are when they do. As we conclude women’s history month may we remember the significance of the Women behind the Montgomery bus boycott and recognize that women are pillars for any movement, society, etc… And they deserve better treatment for their work.
this is also a call to action, a reminder that no movement is completed without the details. Without these women, there is no bus boycott and we must emphasize that as we begin to form our own movements for equality and justice. Cheers to these women, may they get their recognition and become beacons for hope and justice for millennium to come. This poses the question, with people suffering and the governments local and national failing to assist their people what will you do in order to act upon these harsh times? This is the time for action, much like these women who built a network through intricate planning and execution, how will you execute?