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Montgomery Bus Boycott Lesson for Kids: Facts & Summary

Instructor: Michelle Jones

Michelle has taught at the elementary level and has earned a master's degree.

The Montgomery bus boycott was an event that sparked a major civil rights movement. Emerging from it were two main characters who would become household names. This lesson explains what the boycott was, the effects that it had and the ultimate outcome that changed history.

How It All Started

What if your family went to a restaurant that would not even let your brother come in because he has blue eyes? You would think that was crazy and unfair, right? It's not his fault his eyes are blue and he deserves to eat too, right?

Well, in the 1950s, some southern cities and states practiced segregation, where white and black people had to use separate facilities including bathrooms, water fountains, and even schools. As for buses, the white people sat up front while blacks sat in the back. If the front of the bus was full, a black person was to give up his/her seat for a white person. This was the case in Montgomery, Alabama.

Rosa Parks, a black bus rider in Montgomery, felt that this unequal treatment was not fair. One day, she decided not to give her seat to a white person and was arrested. On the day of her court hearing, December 5, 1955, thousands of black Americans began a protest that would change the course of history.

Water fountains were just one of the many segregated facilities in the south.
Photo of a segregated water fountain

Taking a Stand

The black citizens of Montgomery, outraged over Rosa Park's arrest, took action and organized a boycott, where they refused to ride the buses. This had quite an impact as blacks made up most of the bus riders in that city. Organizers of the protest met, formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and elected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as its president. In addition, the MIA voted to continue the boycott until their demands were met.

Their list of demands were not unreasonable. They simply wanted first-come, first-served seating, black bus drivers to be hired, and respectful treatment by white bus drivers. The city of Montgomery refused to meet these demands, and so the boycott lasted for 381 days!

Martin Luther King encouraged a nonviolent approach to the Montgomery bus boycott.
Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr.

How Did Boycotters Get Around?

The key to the Montgomery bus boycott lasting so long was organized and determined leadership. Since the protesters in Montgomery were boycotting all of the buses, they had to find other ways to get around.

Those who could walk to and from work, did just that. A system of carpools was organized by the MIA leaders for people who needed transportation, and African American taxi drivers lowered their fare to 10 cents, which just happened to be the same as buses. These were some clever and determined protesters!

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