December 1, 2000 A Salute for Alabama Bus Boycotters by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Most people know Rosa Parks launched a movement 45 years ago by refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala. But few people know that Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith did the same thing. Parks' protest on Dec. 1, 1955, is credited with launching the Montgomery bus boycott that helped strike down segregation in public accommodations. Colvin and Smith, who similarly refused to budge from their bus seats earlier that same year, also were arrested and convicted but they were sent home, their contributions barely mentioned again. The spirit of women like Parks, Colvin and Smith will be celebrated in Alabama this weekend when civil rights leaders gather in Montgomery to celebrate the anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. ``The men were decision-makers, but had not there been for women, there would not have been a movement,'' said Juanita Abernathy, who will be honored with Parks and Coretta Scott King during the weekend's festivities. ``They were the foot-soldiers, the young people and women. We played a very significant role.'' Abernathy is the widow of the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, one of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s top lieutenants. King and Abernathy led the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 that launched the civil rights movement. King was assassinated in 1968 and Abernathy died in 1990. While names like King, Abernathy and Parks readily come to mind when the bus boycott is mentioned, there were thousands of others who should be remembered for their efforts, leaders said. In her book, ``Quiet Strength,'' Parks herself warned against people giving her too much credit. ``Four decades later I am still uncomfortable with the credit given to me for starting the bus boycott,'' she said. ``I would like people to know I was not the only person involved. I was just one of many who fought for freedom.'' But Parks is known best. Then a 42-year-old seamstress, she boarded a Montgomery city bus that December day and sat in the first row of seats in the black section of the bus. When some white men got on the bus, the driver ordered Parks to give up her seat because whites and blacks were not supposed to sit in the same seats at the same time. She refused. The bus driver had her arrested. Two days later, then-unknown ministers Abernathy and King met with black leaders in Montgomery, The boycott began that Monday and continued through 1956, when the Supreme Court ordered the buses desegregated. The 40,000 people who walked to work and the people like Colvin and Smith who stood up for themselves in Montgomery also shouldn't be forgotten, said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who plans to attend the Alabama celebration. ``We're going down there to pay tribute to the nameless and the faceless who participated in the march, those who we don't know about and those who have already gone on who made this revolution a successful act,'' Mfume said. ``It was absolutely incredible that thousands upon thousands of people were willing to walk in the rain and walk in the cold, inclement weather blocks and in some instances miles to work or wherever they had to go.'' Their act taught civil rights groups about the power of boycotting, which the NAACP has used to force changes in television networks, banks and hotels, Mfume said. The use of boycotts ``showed how effective you can be if you stick to your principles,'' he said. However, many of those like Colvin, who ended up part of the lawsuit that desegregated the bus system, want to keep their anonymity. Colvin, who now lives in New York City, refused interviews and will not attend the celebration in Montgomery. Civil rights leaders say they will use the weekend to focus on what needs to be done in the future, including possible additional Florida election protests. ``Montgomery led to the other movements that took place all round the country, and Selma was certainly one of them, which gave us the right to vote,'' Abernathy said. And the Florida election controversy ``might unify us to the point where black people might take to the streets again. They don't want us back in the streets like we were in the '60s.''
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : 12/02/00 EST