Martin Luther King Day was signed into law as a federal holiday in 1983, but was not established in all 50 states until 2000. The holiday celebrates the contributions of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., known for his contribution to ending segregation in the United States, and the tactics of civil disobedience that were used to achieve this goal. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was one of his first successes.
On the evening of December 1, 1955, 42 year old Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery, Alabama after a long day at work. She took a seat in the “colored” section of the bus, as was required under Montgomery’s segregation laws. The bus took on more passengers, and eventually there were no seats left at all. The white section filled up, and the bus driver noticed that several white men were standing up. He asked African-American passengers to get up and some reluctantly agreed, but Rosa Parks remained seated.
As a result of her refusal to get up and give her seat to a white man, Rosa Parks was arrested. The case went to “trial” and after a 30 minute hearing, she was found guilty and ordered to pay a $10 fine and a $4 court fee. On the night of the arrest King met with local NAACP leader E.D. Nixon, and other civil rights leaders in the community, to organize a boycott of buses in Montgomery. The group of leaders chose King to spearhead this civil disobedience campaign that was the beginning of the end of segregation in the United States.
It then became King’s job to keep the spirit alive for 382 days while African-American workers endured walking many miles to work, violence, intimidation and harassment. King’s home, and the homes of other leaders, were attacked and vandalized. During the strike, the African-American civil rights leadership began legal action against the city ordinance, arguing that it was unconstitutional based on the landmark anti-segregation in schools decision, Brown v. Board of Education. After losses in the lower courts and enduring the financial strain of the boycott, the City of Montgomery changed the law requiring segregation on buses. This paved the road to the abolition of segregation laws throughout the country.