By Daniel Lewis, ProQuest Sr. Product Manager
Sixty years ago, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Almost immediately after the arrest, Black residents of Montgomery sprang into action, organizing a bus boycott that began four days later on December 5, 1955.
The Montgomery community boycotted the buses for 381 days and provided a key spark to what became the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The boycott also launched the career of Martin Luther King Jr. When the boycott began in December 1955, King was the newly hired minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, but the leaders of Montgomery selected King to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization created to guide the bus boycott.
Here are three approaches for students researching the Montgomery Bus Boycott with primary sources:
1. The Boycott through the lens of FBI Agents
2. The history of the NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama
3. Discrimination in transportation
The Boycott through the Lens of FBI Agents
For students interested in doing original primary source research on the Montgomery Bus Boycott and related events, the documents in ProQuest History Vault provide many possibilities. One collection for studying the boycott is the FBI files on Montgomery, Alabama, in Centers of the Southern Struggle, included in Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Federal Government Records. Although the FBI reacted somewhat slowly in the early days of the bus boycott, by late December 1955 and into January 1956, the FBI devoted sustained attention to the Montgomery protest, providing frequent updates back to Washington on the course of the boycott. Following the conclusion of the boycott in December 1956, the FBI established a file on southern segregation. This file, included with the Montgomery materials in Centers of the Southern Struggle, offers information on major civil rights events in 1957 through 1959: the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957 (the third anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision) and two Youth Marches for Integrated Schools in 1958 and 1959.
The History of the NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama
Rosa Parks and E. D. Nixon were two very important Montgomery leaders involved in the bus boycott. Parks and Nixon were also leaders of Montgomery’s NAACP branch; Nixon as president of the branch and Parks as branch secretary and adviser to the branch’s youth council. The important role of Nixon and Parks in the boycott suggests that another possible research topic related to the Montgomery Bus Boycott would be to trace the history of the NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama. The NAACP Papers collection in History Vault includes interesting documentation on the Montgomery NAACP branch from 1945-1955, the bus boycott, and white resistance to the boycott. Closely related to NAACP files on the Montgomery Bus Boycott are the files pertaining to the state of Alabama’s determined campaign to force the NAACP to cease operations in Alabama. This campaign is documented in the NAACP Legal Department files in the case files for NAACP v. Alabama and the related cases of NAACP v. Flowers, NAACP v. Gallion, NAACP v. Patterson, and NAACP v. State ex rel. Patterson.
Discrimination in Transportation
A third topic connected to the Montgomery Bus Boycott that a student might research is discrimination in transportation. For this topic, the NAACP Papers collection will be a good source. A subject search on “discrimination in transportation” in History Vault retrieves 818 results. 293 of these results come from the NAACP Papers and document a wide range of different episodes. The other major set of results comes from a collection in Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Federal Government Records. This collection, Civil Rights Movement and the Federal Government, Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission on Discrimination in Transportation, 1961-1970, consists of over 300 case files of informal complaints that the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) investigated and in many cases sought to remedy between 1961 and 1970. Several of these complaints come from well-known events such as the Freedom Rides or the movement in Albany, Georgia, but most of the cases come from individuals experiencing discrimination in separate incidents.
Librarians: Learn more about the Black Freedom Struggle modules and the NAACP Papers in History Vault and sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault modules. Plus, get ready for Black History Month, celebrated in February in North America, with complementary resources including Black Studies Center and Black Historical Newspapers.