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Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Civil Rights Attorneys in the US Supreme Court 60 Year Celebration

The Movement is much more than marching in the streets and includes civil rights lawyers and the courts, a lesson that remains important today. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., organized direct action to stop segregated busing in 1955. Martin Luther King, Jr., is rightly celebrated as a national hero while attorney Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s role in the movement is often marginalized. The U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated busing in Alabama unconstitutional in 1956.

On December 17, 1956, the Supreme Court in Browder v. Gayle, 352 U.S. 903 (1956), rejected city and state appeals to reconsider their decision, and three days later the order for integrated buses arrived in Montgomery. On December 20, 1956, King and the Montgomery Improvement Association voted to end the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott. King said: “The year-old protest against city buses is officially called off, and the Negro citizens of Montgomery are urged to return to the buses tomorrow morning on a non-segregated basis.” The Montgomery buses were integrated the following day. See Stanford Civil Rights Project, King Encyclopedia.

The Civil Rights Revolution includes:

  • Civil rights attorneys developing creative legal and organizing strategies beginning early in the 20th century to promote equal justice and human dignity for all in and out of court.
  • Creative courts including the U.S. Supreme Court issuing path breaking decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and Browder v. Gayle (1956).
  • The Movement in the streets includes, for example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
  • Legislation in Congress and the states. This includes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination by recipients of federal funds.
  • Presidential action, including LBJ breaking the longest filibuster in U.S. History to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
  • People voting to provide a mandate for equal protection in the 1964 election, and to send a Black president to the White House in 2008 and 2012.
  • Implementation and administrative action. Ten years after Brown, schools in the South had taken virtually no steps to desegregate. The federal government and civil rights attorneys then began using the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination by recipients of federal funding under Title VI), combined with federal funding for schools, to ensure compliance with nondiscrimination requirements by southern school districts. As a result, southern schools became the most integrated in the nation by 1972.

Decades later the struggle continues for transportation justice. See “A remarkable moment in American urban history,” 20th Anniversary MTA Transportation Justice Bus Rider’s Case.

See Robert García and Ariel Collins, Celebrate the Civil Rights Revolution: The Struggle Continues (The City Project Policy Report 2014).