Browder v. Gayle: Summary, Verdict & Facts

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

Racial segregation on buses was a common practice in Alabama during the 1950's. The civil case, 'Browder v. Gayle', which was filed by four plaintiffs, put an end to this practice in 1956. This lesson will examine this case and its verdict.

Racial Segregation In Alabama

Try to imagine yourself as a Negro living in a southern state like Alabama or Mississippi during the 1950's. Blatant discrimination is everywhere. Gas stations do not provide restrooms for you, schools are segregated, and if you're taking the bus, you're expected to give up your seat to a white passenger if one should board, even if other empty seats are available, and go to the back of the bus or stand.

The Historic Action Of Rosa Parks

This life was the reality for Negroes who lived in Alabama and other southern states during the 1950's, and as a result, civil unrest was prevalent. The horrible murder of 14 year old Emmett Till, who was falsely accused of lewd behavior toward a white woman, occurred only a short time before Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person on December 1, 1955.

The Need For New Legislation

Rosa Parks was arrested and tried. She did not win at her trial, which lasted all of 30 minutes, and was charged a $14 fine for ''disorderly conduct''. She filed an appeal, which she also lost in February of 1956, over a year later.

However, her refusal to give up that seat was not entirely unsuccessful because it led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott, in which all Negro citizens were encouraged to simply not take the bus, created financial hardship for the Montgomery city transit system, and was an effective move toward creating change. It became the impetus for Browder v. Gayle, the case that would finally end segregation on buses.

Browder v. Gayle Is Filed

Although Rosa Parks became famous for her act of refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, she was not the first to have done so. There were four other women (among many others) who had been victims of the segregation policies on Montgomery buses, and they were the plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case.

Their names were Aurelia S. Browder, Mary Louise Smith, Claudette Colvin, and Susie McDonald. Colvin, who was only 15 at the time, had also been arrested and forcibly removed from a bus for refusing to give up her seat, some months before Rosa Parks.

Civil rights attorneys met with attorneys from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to prepare the lawsuit and the plaintiffs.

A Three Judge Panel

Browder v. Gayle was filed in U.S. District Court on February 1, 1956. Because the statute that created segregation in the Montgomery bus system was an Alabama state statute, and because its constitutionality was being questioned, judicial procedure required three judges to try the case.

The Verdict

The judges in the three-judge panel ruled two-to-one on the case on June 5, 1956. They held that the segregation policies being enforced on Alabama's buses violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which states that no 'State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.''

The city appealed to the Supreme Court, but it upheld the lower court's verdict in November.

Precedent Case

In Browder v. Gayle, the Court concluded that a precedent case that was tried in the Supreme Court in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, was applicable. In Brown v. Board of Education, Oliver Brown, a black plaintiff, had filed a lawsuit against the Kansas Board of Education because they denied his daughter entrance to the Kansas all-white schools.

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