Selected Happenings of the Montgomery Bus Boycott


 

SELECTED HAPPENINGS OF THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT
By Uriah J. Fields

1955  Occurrences Before the Montgomery Bus Boycott

March 2  Claudette Colvin, 15, is arrested for allegedly violating Montgomery's ordinance requiring segregation on city's buses.
May 6  Claudette Colvin is found guilty in Judge Eugene Carter's court and sentenced to pay a fine. Three ministers, I, her pastor and one other minister was present for her trial.
October 15  Mary Louise Smith is arrested and fined for refusing to yield her bus seat to a white passenger. She is pregnant and within a few weeks will deliver a baby.

Selected Montgomery Bus Boycott Happenings

Two weeks before Rosa Parks' arrest Yolanda, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King is born.
December 1, 1955, Thursday, Rosa Parks is arrested after she refused to give her bus seat to a white person.
December 2, Friday, a meeting is called by Jo Ann Robinson, president of the Women Political Council, and E. D. Nixon, the chief black leader in Montgomery. Some 30 ministers and laypersons attended the meeting that was held at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to determine the appropriate response black people should make to Parks' arrest. During the meeting it was proposed that on the next Monday, the day of Park's trial there be a one-day bus boycott and a 7 p.m. mass meeting to be held at the Holt Street Baptist Church to involve the community in addressing the mistreatment of black bus riders. It was also agreed upon that a meeting be held that afternoon to discuss the program to be presented during the evening mass meeting. Mimeograph leaflets are to be prepared to inform people in the community of the proposed bus bus boycott.
December 3  Saturday, mimeographed leaflets were distributed in the black community urging all people to boycott buses on Monday, the day of Park's trial and attend a mass meeting on Monday evening at 7 p.m.
December 4  Sunday, pastors appealed to their parishioners urging them to not ride buses on Monday and to attend the 7 p.m., mass meeting on Monday. To emphasize the significance of the pending Park's trial I preached on the trial of Jesus.
December 4  Sunday, Joe Azbell, reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, having been informed of the proposed bus boycott by E D. Nixon stated in his article that Negroes were  planning to boycott buses on Monday. This informed some people who had not been informed of the proposed bus boycott, including the media and city officials.
December 4  Sunday, Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers went on TV and denounced black leaders for calling for a boycott of buses and declared that there will not be a bus boycott.
When I returned home after church service the first thing I heard on TV was Sellers' disparaging comments of black leaders and expression of how confident he was that black bus riders will not boycott the buses.
December 5  Monday was the first day of the bus boycott and buses were empty. At the trial, Rosa Parks pleaded not guilty and is fined $14.00. Fred Gray filed a notice of appeal. E. D. Nixon walked out of the courtroom to post bond for her release. In the afternoon eighteen persons, ministers and laypersons, meet at the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church, Rev. Roy L. Bennett, pastor. The group organizes itself as the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA.) Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected president, Uriah J. Fields was elected recording secretary, E. N. French, correspondence Secretary, Erna Dungee, financial secretary and E. D.Nixon, treasurer of the organization. King appointed Ralph D. Abernathy chairman, W. F. Alford, Thomas Gray, E. D. Nixon and Roscoe Glasco to the Resolution Committee to draw up resolutions and recommendations that would be submitted to the people attending the mass meeting to vote on later that evening at the Holt Street Baptist Church, Rev. A. W. Wilson, pastor. An agenda for the mass meeting is prepared. At the mass meeting, attended by more than 3,500 people, Abernathy presents resolutions, which are adopted, apparently by all present, authorizing  continuing the boycott until city officials make a positive response to the proposals presented to them by the MIA.
December 6  The MIA executive board met for the first time to organize its committees. The Alabama Council on Human Relations (ACHR) offered to bring opposing factions together, company officials, city official and MIA leaders.
December 8  The first negotiating session, consisting of the three city commissioners, bus company representative lawyer Jack Crenshaw and MIA leaders. At that meeting those present agreed on who would participate in the negotiation and the date for the next meeting.
December 16  K. E. Totten, vice president of National City Lines in Chicago, parent company of Montgomery City Lines, meets with Mayor W. A.Gayle, City Commissioner Frank Parks, and Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers.
December 17  During a meeting with the city commissioners and MIA leaders, Totten leaves it up to the citizens of Montgomery to resolve the question of segregation. The committee  dreadlocks on a resolution offered by the white members to postpone the boycott until January 15 but agreed to a resolution requiring more courtesy from the bus drivers. The car pool reportedly involves two hundred private cars and four gas stations.
December 19  After a contentious two-hour meeting the mayor's committee adjourned when Luther Ingalls, secretary of the local White Citizens Council, who was not in the original group, joins the group. King objects to his presence on the committee. A few hours later, King left the utterly unproductive meeting burdened by what he called a "terrible sense of guilt."
January 21  On this Saturday night black correspondent in Minneapolis, Carl T. Rowan saw an item moving on the AP wire in Minneapolis and called King: the Sunday Montgomery Advertiser  would break the news that the Negroes had agreed to end the boycott. All Negroes would return to the buses Monday morning, said the story, which spelled out settlement terms including more courtesy from the bus drivers. No Negro leader was identified by name. An attempt was made to identify the three persons who had met with the Mayor. Atty. Gray, through a process of elimination, found the men to have been Rev. Mosely, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Bishop Doc C. Rice, pastor of Oak Street Holiness Church and Rev. William K. Kinds, pastor of Jackson Street Baptist Church. Kinds said he had been told that this was a meeting with the Mayor to talk about insurance. Mosely released a statement denying his complicity in any agreement to end the boycott. Neither of these ministers were leader in the boycott.
January 23  Two days after the reported settlement of the bus boycott, King offered his resignation to the MIA Executive Board. He said there was no chance of a negotiated settlement with him as the MIA leader. Board members pleaded with him not to resigned and gave King a unanimous vote of confidence. This writer was in that meeting recording the minute. King withdrew his resignation. We were glad that King would continue to lead even though we knew the road ahead would be difficult, especially for him.
January 30, Monday  The MIA executive board authorized Fred D.Gray to file a federal suit challenging segregation on Montgomery buses.
      Previously, there had been no attempt to call for integration on buses. When King was asked by reporters if he would agree to drop any one of the three proposals to end the bus boycott? he said that the protest will end only when city officials agree to all three of these proposals: (1) Courteous treatment by bus drivers, (2) seating of Negro passengers from rear to front of bus, and whites from front to rear on first-come-first-serve basis with no seats reserved for any race, and (3) Employment of Negro bus operators in predominantly Negro residential sections. Uriah J. Fields contended that the demand should be for integration. In his book Bearing the Cross David J. Garrow writes:  "MIA Secretary Rev Uriah J. Fields, in an unauthorized letter to the Advertiser went even further, and appeared to bare some disagreements within the group. The Negroes of Montgomery have no desire to compromise to begin with, he stated. Regarding the demands, "this is a compromise to begins with" we should have demanded integration." Fields was strongly reprimanded for speaking out of turn. (p.52).  
January 30  At 9:15 p.m., while King is speaking before two thousand congregants at a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, his home is bombed. Coretta Scott King and their daughter, Yolanda Denise, are not injured. A large crowd that gathers outside his house, plead for nonviolence. I was there as were all the people who were attending the mass meeting and some city officials.
February 1  Gray and Charles D. Langford file a federal district court petition (which becomes "(Aurelia S. Browder v. William A. Gayle) on behalf of five Montgomery women to enjoin the city commissioners from enforcing segregation on city buses. The thinking was that if city official made a positive response to the demands of black people the suit would be withdrawn. At the county sheriff's office, King, Abernathy and Rev. H. H. Hubbard apply for a permit to allow a night watchman at King's home to carry a gun. Sheriff Butler denies the permit. A bomb explodes in the yard of E. D. Nixon, the MIA treasurer.
February 21  The Montgomery grand jury indicts 115 leaders (later reduced to 89) of the Montgomery movement on misdemeanor charges of violating Alabama's anti-boycott law. I was not indicted but received summons as a State witness that contained the words "Duces Tecum," instructing me to bring and produce at the trial all minutes of meetings of the Montgomery Improvement Association.
February 22  Seventy-five indicted boycott leaders appear at the county jail, they are arrested and released on bond.
March 19  The trial. King, the first of eighty-nine leaders to be tried appears in a Montgomery courtroom for his four-day trial. Writing about Uriah J. Fields as a State witness L. D. Reddick, in his book, Crusader Without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1959), second book to be published that focused on the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King., Jr, was published, writes, There was also
Rev. U. J. Fields, a shining comet that later somehow fell out of the obit."
(p. 127).
Speaking of Fields's testimony at the trial Reddick writes: The Rev Fields, then recording secretary of the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) that conducted the Montgomery Bus Boycott skirted the edge of contempt by his indirect and at times impish answers to question that the prosecution put to him. Actually, he appeared to toy with the soclicitor. Accordingly,he was the hero of the moment in the Negro community After court hours, wherever Negroes met, they would laugingly ask, "Man, did you see Fields playing with them today." (p.143).
       On the second day of the trial the prosecution sought to link the incidents of shootings on buses with the boycott leadership. The state of Alabama's star witness, Uriah J. Fields was called to the stand. He refused to swear but did affirm to tell the truth. After his testimony at the trial, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that solicitor William Thetford said, "Fields was the most recalcitrant witness to have been summoned by the State during his more than a decade as solicitor."
March 22  King testifies during his trial in his own defense. Judge Carter finds him guilty of leading an illegal boycott and sentences him to pay $500 fine plus court costs or to serve 386 days in jail. The sentence is suspended when King files an appeal and is released on $1,000 bond. Judge Carter orders a continuance in the other cases until final appeals are completed.
June 11  I, Uriah J. Fields, resigns from his position as secretary of the MIA, mainly because funds meant for the bus boycott were being misappropriated. 
December 20, 1956  The Supreme Court bus desegregation mandate arrives at Judge Johnson's office. U.S. marshals deliver the writs of injunction to Montgomery city officials. Judge Jones dissolves his injunction against bus integration and rebukes the Supreme Court. Later that day King presides over MIA meetings at Holt Street Baptist Church and Saint John AME Church during which attendees vote to end the 381-day long boycott.
December 21  Montgomery city lines resumes full service on all routes. King, Abernathy, Inez J. Baskin were among the first passengers to seat themselves in the section formerly reserved for whites. Violence followed the integration of buses for days.

((There were other significant occurrences between December 1,1955 and June 11, and many others between June 12 and December 20, 1956 and  between December 22 and January 9, 1957 that are not cited in this presentation.)) 

January 10, 1957  At 2:30 a.m.,die-hard segregationists in a last-ditch attempt to prevent  integration on Montgomery buses bombed four churches and two parsonages in Montgomery. The churches were: Hutchinson Street Baptist Church, Rev. H. H. Johnson, pastor; First Baptist Church, Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, pastor; Mount Olive Baptist Church, Rev. E. D. Bell, pastor and Bell Street Baptist Church, Rev. Uriah J. Fields, pastor. The parsonages were: those of First Baptist Church and Trinity Lutheran Church, Rev.
Robert S. Graetz, pastor. In his book, Parting the Waters" Taylor Branch writes, "Bell Street Baptist Church, suffered the most destruction on the night of the bombs." (p. 200)

{Data cited for the aforementioned presentation includes: facts from my own first-hand and eye-witness experiences as a participant in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, "Parting the Waters: America the King Years 1951-1963" by Taylor Branch, "Bearing the Cross" by David J. Garrow, "The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. III," Clayborne Carson, director and senior editor of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project, and "Inside the Montgomery Bus Boycott: My Personal Story" by Uriah J. Fields.}

Uriah J. Fields was the original secretary of the Montgomery Improvement Association that gave structure to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and pastor of the Bell Street Baptist Church that was rebuilt after she was bombed during his nine-year pastorate of this church.

2016, the 60th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Copyright 2016 by Uriah J. Fields

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