• U.S.

RACES: Back with Humility

3 minute read

To the 50,000 Negroes of Montgomery, Ala., the week dawned (as one of them put it) “darker than a thousand midnights.” For more than eleven months, in a mass movement combining Christian fervor with Gandhi-like passive resistance, they had mounted and sustained in the “Cradle of the Confederacy” an almost total boycott of the city’s segregated buses (TIME, April 2 ). Led by a handful of well-educated and young Negro leaders—notably by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 27, pastor of a local Baptist church—they had efficiently put together and operated a car pool of some 200 vehicles to ferry themselves to and from work. Now the leaders and lawyers sat glumly in the Montgomery County courthouse waiting for the state circuit court to outlaw the Negro car pool on the charge—made by the city commission—that it was actually a business enterprise operating without a franchise.

In the middle of the proceedings they saw an A.P. reporter hand a piece of paper to their white opponents, who promptly hustled outside. Minutes later the news was out: the Supreme Court, ruling on the Montgomery case, had unanimously upheld a district court’s ruling that the “separate but equal” doctrine was now as legally dead for segregated public transportation as it had already been declared dead for public schools and public recreational facilities. The effect of the decision: to invalidate Alabama’s intrastate Jim Crow bus laws and to set the grounds for invalidating similar laws in eleven other Southern states.

“Joyous Daybreak.” The next night 10,000 Negroes jammed two of Montgomery’s largest churches and adjacent streets to savor their triumph. Appearing before each group in turn was the spiritual architect of that triumph, the Rev. Dr. King. He was too wise to be triumphant; he read to each congregation a statement that should loom large in the Negro’s long, patient fight for equality:

“All along, we have sought to carry out the protest on high moral standards . . . rooted in the deep soils of the Christian faith. We have carefully avoided bitterness. [The] months have not at all been easy . . . Our feet have often been tired and our automobiles worn, but we have kept going with the faith that in our struggle we had cosmic companionship, and that, at bottom, the universe is on the side of justice. [The Supreme Court’s decision was] a revelation of the eternal validity of this faith, [and] came to all of us as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of enforced segregation in public transportation.”

“Just Sit Down.” When the court order comes through. Dr. King urged his followers, act sensibly but without pride. On the one hand, “we have been going to the back of the bus for so long there is danger that we instinctively will go straight back there again and perpetuate segregation. Just sit down where a seat is convenient.” On the other hand, “I would be terribly disappointed if any of you go back to the buses bragging, ‘We. the Negroes, won a victory over the white people’ … I hope nobody will go back with undue arrogance. If you do, our struggle will be lost all over the South. Go back with humilitv and meekness.”

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