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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

November 17, 2021: The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Three More Key Figures

[November 13th marked the 65th anniversary of a key moment in the unfolding history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of layers to that Civil Rights Movement activism, leading up to a weekend post on 21st century legacies and echoes!]

On a trio of vital bus boycott figures beyond Rosa Parks (and MLK, on whom more tomorrow):

1)      Claudette Colvin: After more than a half-century of frustrating erasure, in recent years we’ve started to collectively remember a bit more fully the young woman who undertook first the same civil rights protest as Parks, and who was deemed unsuitable for national attention because she was pregnant. Yet as the first hyperlink above reflects, collective memory isn’t nearly enough, not when Colvin continues to be defined and limited by the criminal record attached to that brave activism. She needs our full support, as the American hero she was and is.

2)      E.D. Nixon: Women like Colvin, Parks, and the others about whom I wrote in Monday’s linked article were the true originators of the boycott. But the labor movement played a key role in launching and amplifying that civil rights protest, and spearheading that interconnected labor activism was Nixon, president of the Montgomery branch of A. Philip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union. MLK called Nixon “a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of the long oppressed people of the State of Alabama,” and through his creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Nixon became just as practically influential as he was symbolically meaningful.

3)      Ralph Abernathy: The Baptist pastor Abernathy was King’s closest friend and ally throughout the years of the Civil Rights Movement, and had worked to link a network of Baptist churches to the movement since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, but it was with the boycott that he really came into his own as a leading activist and advocate for that movement. I love this story from the first hyperlinked post above, so will share it in full to conclude today’s post: “While King emphasized the philosophical implications of nonviolence and the movement, Abernathy helped energize the people into positive action. ‘Now,’ he would tell the audience following King’s address, ‘Let me tell you what that means for tomorrow morning.’”

Next bus boycott layer tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Sides to this history or histories like it you’d highlight? 

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