On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person on the bus she took on her regular ride home from the Montgomery Fair department store. The bus driver called the Montgomery police, who took took her to the station and booked, fingerprinted, and incarcerated her. She was charged with violating the Alabama bus segregation laws. Bond was posted for Mrs. Parks, and she went home. By Monday, a bus boycott was organized. The NAACP, Women’s Political Council, Baptist Ministers Conference, and the city’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zionist ministers united with the community to help.
After the successful beginning of the boycott on Monday, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) came into being that afternoon, and Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the presidency. As MIA leader, King became the focus of white hatred. On January 30, 1956, the King home was bombed.
King had been speaking at a mass meeting at the First Baptist Church. When he heard the news, he told the crowd what happened, and left the church.
Nearing his house, King saw blacks brandishing guns and knives, and a barricade of white policemen. King went inside and pushed through the crowd in his house to the back room to make sure Coretta and his ten-week-old baby were okay. Back in the front room of the house, some white reporters were trying to leave to file their stories, but could not get out of the house, which was surrounded by armed, angry blacks.
Taylor Branch, in Parting the Waters, tells what happened next:
“King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. ‘Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’”
When the crowd of several hundred was silent, he continued:
“I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”
The bombing inspired the MIA to file a federal suit directly attacking the laws establishing bus segregation. In the meanwhile, for thirteen months the 17,000 black people in Montgomery walked to work or obtained lifts from the small car-owning black population of the city. Eventually, the loss of revenue and a decision by the Supreme Court forced the Montgomery Bus Company to accept integration, and the boycott came to an end on December 20, 1956. The success of the boycott became apparent when King and several allies boarded a public bus in front of King’s home on December 21, 1956.