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1956: King convicted for bus boycott

Civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, has been convicted of organising an illegal boycott by black passengers of buses in the US state of Alabama.

Mr King, 27, was fined $500 (178) and ordered to pay an equal amount in costs.

However, his lawyers immediately gave notice of their intention to appeal and the fine was converted into a prison sentence of 386 days, suspended until the appeal hearing.

Archaic law

The 17-week-old boycott in the town of Montgomery was sparked by the arrest of a black woman, Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat for a white passenger on 1 December last year.

The town's segregation laws stipulate separate areas on buses for blacks and whites and require blacks to give up their seats for whites if necessary.

Black travellers have long complained of being called racist names by bus drivers and being forced to stand even if seats were vacant in the whites-only section.

Mrs Parks, 42, was not the first to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat but she was a well-known and respected figure in Montgomery's black community.

Four days after her arrest an almost universal boycott of the town's buses by black passengers began which has seriously diminished the companies' revenues.

Mr King was found guilty under an archaic law dating from 1921 designed to break trade union action.

The law carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and six months in prison.

But Judge Eugene Carter said he had been lenient with Mr King because he had advocated non-violence.

In Context
The bus boycott lasted a total of 382 days.

It ended in December 1956 after bus companies throughout Alabama were forced to comply with a US Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public transport was illegal.

Martin Luther King organised non-violent campaigns for equal rights throughout the 1950s and 1960s and was jailed many times.

In August 1963 he made his famous "I have a dream" speech at a march in Washington which attracted more than 250,000 demonstrators.

The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

He survived several attempts on his life but was assassinated in April 1968.

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