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The Montgomery Improvement Association

The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was organized December 5, 1955, following the conviction of Rosa L. Parks for refusing to yield her seat on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama, city bus. Parks had been arrested four days earlier and local black leaders, notably E. D. Nixon and JoAnn Robinson, had seized on her case as a way to improve the treatment of black citizens under a 1900 segregation ordinance that required blacks to stand if their seats were needed by white passengers.

On December 2, Robinson's Women's Political Council, consisting mostly of professors at Alabama State College, distributed flyers calling for a boycott of the buses on the morning Parks was to appear in court. Over the next few days, various black leaders met at least twice to plan the protest.

On the morning of December 5, the boycott was almost total. Parks was predictably convicted, and that afternoon a larger group of leaders met in the basement of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to consider further action. The group voted to support a sustained protest and formed itself into the Montgomery Improvement Association. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 26-year-old pastor of the Dexter Avenue church, was elected president. Ralph D. Abernathy was elected vice president, and Nixon was elected treasurer. Rufus Lewis was named to head a transportation committee, which over the coming months would grow into a well-organized car pool system with up to 200 vehicles and extensive routes.

With the eloquent King as spokesperson, the MIA held meetings with Montgomery city officials in an effort to negotiate an end to the boycott. But city officials were unyielding in their support for segregation and the MIA gradually adopted a two-prong strategy: its legal team, led by Fred D. Gray, challenged the segregation law in federal court, while the MIA itself organized alternative transportation, raised funds, conducted a local and national publicity campaign, and kept up the enthusiasm of local black citizens. The latter was accomplished primarily through weekly mass meetings hosted at various African American churches. These meetings combined powerful preaching, singing, and reports to the people on the progress of the boycott.

Staying off the buses was no small matter, for at that time few black citizens owned private automobiles and many, especially women domestic workers, lived in black west Montgomery but worked in the homes of white people in east Montgomery. Yet for more than a year, the boycott was effectively supported. Blacks returned to the buses on December 20, 1956, after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling forbidding the segregated bus seating.

The MIA spawned the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by King, who left Montgomery in 1957 to lead the civil rights movement on a national level. In the years after the boycott, the MIA has continued to meet monthly. It has been led since 1968 by Johnnie Carr. Today the MIA largely concerns itself with an annual scholarship award, with anniversaries of the boycott, and with advisory roles in the creation of museums recognizing the bus boycott and other civil rights milestones.--Horace Randall Williams

Bibliography for Montgomery Improvement Association

Gray, Fred.   Bus Ride to Justice. 1995.
Sikora, Frank.   The Judge. 1992.
Burns, Stewart, ed.   Daybreak of Freedom. 1997.
Williams, Randall, ed.   The Children Coming On. 1998.
Raines, Howell.   My Soul Is Rested. 1977.
Branch, Taylor.   Parting the Waters. 1988.
Thornton, J. Mills.   "Challenge and Response in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56", in the Alabama Review, July 1980.
Williams, Randall.  Johnnie: The Life of Johnnie Rebecca Carr. 1995.


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