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The March from the Bus to Lincoln Memorial

By LISZHU May 22, 2013 987 Words
A white man enters the bus and looks for a seat, but the white section of 10 seats is packed. He then walks further back in the bus and stops by the colored section, waits for the first row of African-American passengers to stand up; that is how the system works. Three of them give up their seats when the bus driver demands them to, but the last passenger just moves to the window seat and stays put. “I don’t think I should have to stand up,” she says, and later that day, she is in jail and receives a fine. This day, December 1, 1955, was going to be the first day of a long fight for African-American civil rights which would last for several years.

Similar events had occurred prior to this bus incident of Rosa Parks, but how come we do not know the names or dates of these? We could say that it was a coincidence that only few days later an organization called Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed and was led by a man who would have a great impact on the fight against racial segregation – Martin Luther King Jr. He had earlier become a pastor in a Baptist church and earned a college degree from a Negro institution in Atlanta. While he was a student, he was introduced to Henry Thoreau’s Essay “Civil Disobedience” and the idea of nonviolence – the Gandhian method. Therefore, when he became the leader of MIA, there was no question how they were going to fight the authority. MIA arranged a meeting, led by Jo Ann Robinson and E. D. Nixon, at King Jr.’s church where they launched plans for a boycott of Montgomery buses which would start on December 5 1955, and they were willing to keep on with this protest until their demands were met. Soon, 90% of the African-American community joined the boycott. Instead of taking the bus, they organized carpools and even stood by the high roads with their thumbs out. Since 75% of the bus riders in Montgomery were black, the boycott caused the bus company a lot of economic problems and a social threat to white rule in the city. Even though MIA did not do anything against the law and was willing to accept a compromise which would give African-Americans the rights to sit wherever they wanted in the bus instead of having two separated sections, King Jr. was arrested and had to either pay a big fine or be jailed for more than a year. This attracted more attention to the protest and put the government under a lot of pressure as more and more people took side with King Jr. and MIA. Finally, after 381 days of boycotting the bus company, Montgomery received a court order mandating integration of the bus system and the protest ended.

But would the bus boycott last for a shorter period of time if they did use violence? Some would say that the nonviolent method worked because the passive activists gained pity by the government, especially when they were seen being beat up or even killed by white people, but that they should not have let themselves become victims of such violence. They did not necessarily want any African-Americans to stand up against people who were racists against them by being violent for no particular reason other than pure hate, but to defend themselves even if violence was necessary. Maybe the boycott would indeed last shorter, but maybe it would make the society aware that the protestors were capable of hurting the white people and that could lead them to become desperate and even more violent. The way towards African-American civil rights could become much longer.

Another big demonstration King Jr. led, which I am not going to write too much about, was the famous “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” on August 28, 1963, and it ended up being the largest demonstration for human rights in U.S. history. An estimated quarter of a million people, both African-American and white, marched from the Washington Monument and ended up by the Lincoln Memorial with a program of music and speakers, including Martin Luther King Jr. himself with his much memorable speech “I Have a Dream”.

After the march, another human rights activist, Malcolm X, uttered that the leaders of the arrangement failed to show the society how angry the black community was by letting white people help plan and participate in the march. In a speech he held at the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference called it “a picnic” and gave it the name “Farce of Washington”.

I also noticed when I read the list of speakers at the event that none of the official ones were women. The fact that the African-American woman was not represented that day weakened the message of the march: equality. Though, this had probably no impact or even been noticed by the protestors.

Despite the criticism and weaknesses, the demonstration, as well as King Jr.’s other arrangements and work against racial segregation, made a big difference in the society, and he would probably have to thank Rosa Parks’ courage which started MIA’s success. No African-American had ever achieved this much or gathered that many people from the black community in the fight for their rights like he did. King Jr. was a very inspirational and influential person, he set an example by not stop fighting even if he was arrested or criticized, and – most of all – he achieved almost everything he worked for in a nonviolent way.

Sources
What Rosa Parks said to the bus driver at the bus:
- Rosa Parks Interview – Academy of Achievement: Print Preview

Facts about important demonstrations led by Martin Luther King Jr.: - African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) – Wikipedia - March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom - Wikipedia

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