Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Part Three: Goals of the Boycott
  1. Opening Activity: Examining perspectives. Who supported the boycott? What was the reaction of the Montgomery citizens? In this activity students will participate in a speakers' panel. The panel includes eight historically accurate citizens from Montgomery. You will also need a student to play the role of facilitator. Students will read interviews or letters authored by their citizen during 1955 and 1956. The questions asked by the facilitator will be drawn from the content of the document. Since some of the interviews and letters are longer than others, be sure to read over the documents before assigning roles to students. For example the letter from Mrs. IB Rutledge is fairly short but the interview with Attorney Jack Crenshaw is long and contains legal vocabulary. This role is perfect for your student interested in law. Within the documents students will find the word "negro", "nigra" and "colored". You may want to talk with students about the historical background of these terms and decide on a language policy for the speakers' panel activity. Encourage them to make a nametag and to dress in character. The rest of the class will take notes during the speakers' panel and prepare questions for the members of the panel.

    Roles for the Speakers' Panel
    Juliette Morgan: Montgomery Citizen
    Mrs. IB Rutledge: Montgomery Citizen
    J.H. Bagley: Manager Montgomery City Lines
    Mrs. Beatrice Charles: Citizen of Montgomery
    Clyde Sellers: Police Commissioner
    Mary Kinney: Business Owner
    Mrs. Edna King: Music Instructor
    Jack Crenshaw: Attorney for Montgomery City Lines

    Montgomery Citizens Worksheet
    Suggestions for Speakers
    Suggestions for Facilitator

  2. Discussion/Reflection Questions after the Speakers' Panel:
    Recall Questions: What were the goals of the boycott? Why did some citizens choose to support the boycott, while others did not? How long were they willing to boycott? Did the citizens of Montgomery see the issue as simply seating arrangements on a bus or something larger? Why were citizens of Montgomery willing to walk for miles each day, risk their jobs and personal safety to support the boycott?
    Analysis Questions: Why is a boycott an effective strategy? What obstacles stood in their way? What are some of the strategies for transforming institutional racism? How can every day people organize to transform a community?

  3. Classroom Activity: Allow students to read the Alabama Movement for Human Relations newsletter from December of 1955. The AMHR newsletter describes the situation in Montgomery and the boycott goals. Ask students to identify the goals and the obstacles of the boycott using the T-Chart Handout.

  4. Classroom Activity: Ask students to read the letter to editors of TIME. Discuss with students the role the media plays in influencing public opinion. You may also want to discuss how newspaper accounts contribute to the historical narrative. As an extended activity, ask students to choose a local or national event and follow the coverage from multiple news sources. Ask students to compare and critique the sources. Based on their research, students will write a letter to the editor using the letter to TIME as an example.

  5. Classroom Activity: Discuss with students the definition of institutional racism. You may want to use Jenice L. View's definition from her article in "Putting the Movement Back in Civil Rights Teaching." As View states, institutional racism is the concept of white superiority that is "reinforced in schools, banks, churches, the workplace, real estate agencies, law enforcement, the judicial system, and other institutions that govern daily life, with the purpose of exploiting other "races" and preserving privilege for "whites." Have students read Anna Holden's interview with the Police Commissioner Sellers and identify examples of institutional racism. Encourage them to think beyond the bus company.
  6. Reflection Questions: What are the difficulties faced in transforming institutional racism? Discuss Police Commissioner's explanation for the resistance to change. How did individuals use institutions to maintain segregation? Besides a boycott, what are strategies for transforming institutional racism? How can everyday people organize to transform a community? How can they create systematic change? Discuss King's quote, "We are not wrong it what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong." Martin Luther King, Jr., December 5, 1955.


  Documents:     Handouts and Resources:  
  Assignment Options:        


  • How can everyday people organize to transform a community?
  • What roles did each of the following organizations play in the boycott and how did their strategies differ: Women's Political Council, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Montgomery Improvement Association?
  • What is institutional racism and how did the organizers and participants of the Montgomery bus boycott plan to transform it?
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