To what extent did Martin Luther King (Montgomery Improvement Association) claim the solo credit for the legal desegregation on buses in 1956?
The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was made up of leading black ministers and influential community leaders, founded in 1955. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King they were instrumental in the operation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King introduced an effective system in which black people could directly oppose a regime in which they felt they were being oppressed.
This is called direct action. He came forth with the idea that blacks would no longer use public buses as a means of transport. Alongside this, he urged all blacks participating to not resort to violence if harassed or provoked by white people. This tactic is called passive resistance. This is the idea that black people would not respond or act in violent way. This was implemented to show white people that blacks were civilised human beings and were capable of organising and carrying out a large demonstration in a peaceful way.
Also, it meant that blacks would be able to tap into the sympathy of white people who were on the fence, so to speak, about racial equality. If whites saw a black man resist white violence and acted in self defence, the black man would be seen as the instigator and troublemaker.
However if a black man simply accepted the beating and made no attempts to protect himself, then white people would look at the situation differently and feel sorry for the black man. Passive resistance meant that white people who were unsure of racial equality could support blacks in the desegregation of buses. Therefore it was not only Martin Luther King and the MIA who played a part in the desegregation of buses. It heavily relied on the sympathy and cooperation of the white majority.
Furthermore, the simple idea of boycotting buses had many consequences. Firstly, it meant that bus businesses lost out on serious money as black people who made up 2/3 of the commuters who used the buses. This highlighted the fact that black people were a source of economic power and whites were massively dependent on the blacks as a source of income. This meant that for the first time blacks had an advantage over whites and could exercise their economic power over them. The MIA and Martin Luther King had to come up means in which to transport people outside of buses. This is when the idea of carpooling was birthed. Black people who lived near each other and worked near each other would take the same vehicle to and from work.
Another plan was for taxi drivers to make their rates equivalent to that of buses so it was affordable for people to use daily. And many people simply walked to their destinations.
Another success of the boycott was that it captured media attention. It not only made the local newspapers, but word was quickly spreading nationally about the peaceful black movement in Montgomery. Martin Luther King began to receive recognition about the dignified manner in which he executed the boycott and became a role model for many black people.
He was quickly becoming a well known black leader and icon. This made the boycott even more effective as all the blacks partaking did not want to let him, what they had already achieved and the movement, down. The boycott lasted little over a year and as white businesses were suffering many business owners faced losing their livelihood if the boycott continued. However, white officials did not know how to react to the boycott.
Had it not been for the work of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and the Browder v. Gayle case in 1956, the boycott would have been ineffective and inconsequential as no legal changes would have been made to improve black rights on a bus. Therefore, the NAACP played a crucial rule in the desegregation of buses alongside Martin Luther King and the MIA.
The work and contribution of the NAACP to improving black rights predates that of the MIA. Their work spans over 10 decades and is still continuing today. They were extremely active between the years 1954-56 and the pivotal turning point in the American civil rights movement.
It was the Browder v. Gayle case that changed the law making segregation on buses illegal. Their previous successes at Brown v. Board gave them fuel to win their equal rights promised in the 14th Amendment and stop bus companies from acting unconstitutionally. The NAACP was victorious and outlawed segregation on buses. The legal approach that the NACCP took often took a while to directly affect the vast majority.
However the direct action that Martin Luther King and the MIA took, I believe, was more effective in transforming the lives of black people. It showed that blacks could function independently without depending on whites. It gave black people across America an identity and most importantly belief that it was up to them to improve their own lives. Not to discredit the work of the NAACP as it was ultimately the law they pushed for that ended segregation on buses.
I believe they both worked together hand in hand to desegregate buses, but the mass media attention that Martin Luther King was able to capture made black people across America a united body to fight desegregation. The NAACP did not capture an audience of that magnitude before.
By Libin F