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Boycott, a film on the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56

This is a menu of the topics on this page (click on any): Chronology    The Leaders Behind the Boycott: Rosa Parks    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.    Coretta Scott King    Reverend Ralph Abernathy    Jo Ann Robinson    Bayard Rustin   .

HBO has produced a film named Boycott which tells the story of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama led by Dr. King after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus. The film is now showing on HBO and will be available on DVD on January 8, 2002 from for $18.74.


The HBO website has a section on background which provides the following chronology.

June 3, 1946 U.S. Supreme Court outlaws segregation on interstate buses in the case of Irene Morgan v. the Commonwealth of Virginia.

April 15, 1947 As a rookie with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to play in major league baseball.

February 25, 1948 Martin Luther King Jr. is ordained a minister.

May 17, 1954 U.S. Supreme Court votes 9-0 to outlaw segregation in public education in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This ruling over-turns the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson and the principle of "separate but equal."

March 2, 1955 Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Black leaders decide not to use Colvin's case to press for changes in the segregated bus system when they learn that the unwed teenager is several months pregnant.

August 28, 1955 Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till is murdered in Mississippi after allegedly insulting a white woman.

December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. Jo Ann Robinson of the Women's Political Council (WPC) immediately makes leaflets calling for a one-day bus boycott to protest the arrest of Mrs. Parks.

December 5, 1955 The bus protest begins; local black leaders form the Montgomery Improvement Association and name the young pastor Martin Luther King Jr. as its president.

January 30, 1956 King's house in Montgomery is bombed; no King family members are injured.

November 13, 1956 The U.S. Supreme Court rules that bus segregation in Montgomery and all of Alabama is illegal, upholding a lower court decision in Browder v. Gayle.

December 21, 1956 King and Parks are among the first passengers to ride as Montgomery City Lines resumes full service in an integrated manner.

September 25, 1957 Nine black students desegregate Little Rock Central High School, but only after President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends 10,000 paratroopers and members of the National Guard to protect them.

August 28, 1963 A coalition of civil rights groups holds the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, organized by Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph. With 250,000 participants, it is at the time the largest civil demonstration in U.S. history. Dr. King gives his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

July 2, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law.

December 10, 1964 Martin Luther King Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

February 21,1965 Malcolm X is murdered in Harlem.

March 21-25, 1965 King and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee lead the Selma-to-Montgomery march demanding voting rights in Alabama.

April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.

November 2, 1983 President Ronald Reagan signs into law the bill declaring Martin Luther King Day a national holiday. Starting in 1986, the holiday is observed on the third Monday in January.

The Leaders Behind the Boycott:

Rosa Parks

When the Montgomery bus boycott began in December 1955, Rosa Lee McCauley Parks was already a seasoned civil rights activist working to bring an end to segregation. In her own words, she had "a life history of being rebellious against being mistreated because of my color." Forty-two at the time of her arrest, Parks had been active in the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for more than a decade. A few months before the boycott, her resolve to create change in Montgomery was bolstered when she participated in an activist training program at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Later described as "the mother of the civil rights movement," Parks was fired from her job as a seamstress in Montgomery and moved with her husband to Michigan, where she became the manager of Congressman John Conyers' office.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was 25 when he arrived in Montgomery in 1954 to become pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Though new as a minister, King was able to draw on his family's strong tradition in the church. His father, known as "Daddy King," was the influential pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. The younger King studied religion at Morehouse College in Atlanta and went on to receive a Ph.D. in theology from Boston University. Initially reluctant to become a leader of the bus protest, King eventually changed his mind, believing he had been called by God: "It seemed," he reflected, "that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, 'Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth.' " After the boycott, King became an internationally known civil rights leader, combining the social gospel of his faith with Gandhi's techniques of nonviolent protest. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was only 39 at the time of his assassination in 1968.

Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King was born in rural Alabama, where her family suffered greatly during the Jim Crow era: racists burned down the family sawmill, apparently intent on punishing the Scotts for their success in business. She attended Antioch College in Ohio and went on to study singing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. In 1953 she married Martin Luther King Jr.; he later wrote that "her sense of optimism and balance ...were to be my constant support." Mrs. King and her four children continue to work for a better society through the King Center for Non-violent Social Change, which she founded in 1969 as a memorial to Dr. King. Her memoir, My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr., was published in 1969.

Reverend Ralph Abernathy

Reverend Ralph Abernathy moved to Montgomery in 1951 after receiving a master's degree in sociology from Atlanta University. At the time of the bus boycott, he was the 30-year-old pastor of Montgomery's First Baptist Church and a close friend of King. Abernathy was instrumental in founding the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and later worked with King to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); following King's death, he became the SCLC's president. Abernathy's autobiography, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, was published in 1989.

Jo Ann Robinson

Four days after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in the land-mark 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education, Jo Ann Robinson wrote a remarkable letter to the mayor of Montgomery, threatening a boycott of the city buses because of abusive treatment of black passengers. Galvanized into activism after a racist driver humiliated her in 1949, she served as president of the activist Women's Political Council (WPC) and as an English professor at Alabama State College. On the night of Rosa Parks' arrest, Robinson typed a flyer asking blacks not to ride city buses the next Monday, then stayed up most of the night mimeographing thousands of copies. She not only set the boycott in motion, but remained one of its most active leaders.

Bayard Rustin

Through his travels to India in the late 1940s and his pioneering efforts to end segregation, Bayard Rustin became an expert on how to conduct a nonviolent protest. He shared these insights with Dr. King during the bus boycott, cautioning against the armed guards King had posted at his house. While Rustin's guidance was valued, he was also seen as a liability: he was a former member of the Young Communist League and had been jailed in 1953 on a "morals charge" stemming from his homosexuality. Rustin left Montgomery in response to these concerns but continued as a behind-the-scenes adviser to Dr. King. He went on to organize the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

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