1956 December 17

Supreme Court Affirms Desegregation of Montgomery, Alabama, Buses


The Supreme Court on this day upheld a lower court decision ordering an end to racial segregation of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was one of the iconic events in the history of the civil rights movement, but in fact a legal challenge to the bus system’s policy of  segregation that began nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, was responsible for actually desegregating the bus system.

The lead plaintiff in the legal challenge that was settled on this day was Aurelia Browder, who was arrested, along with three other African-American women, on March 2, 1955. The U.S. District Court for Alabama ruled segregated public transportation unconstitutional on June 13, 1956, in Browder v. Gayle. Thus, it was the Browder decision that ended segregation of the Montgomery buses and not the famous bus boycott that Parks inspired.

The District Court judge who ruled in the Browder case was Frank M. Johnson, a Republican-appointed federal judge in Alabama who was one of the most important civil rights and civil liberties judges in American history. For more on Johnson’s remarkable career, go to October 22, 1955 (for his initial appointment as a judge); August 16, 1977 (for when he was nearly appointed head of the FBI; and July 23, 1999 (for his death).

Learn more about Aurelia Shines Browder Coleman: http://www.montgomeryboycott.com/aurelia-shines-browder-coleman/

Read: Stewart Burns, Daybreak of Freedom: The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1997)

Learn more about the case at the Southern Poverty Law Center: http://www.tolerance.org/article/browder-v-gayle-women-rosa-parks

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