Learning the lesson of peace

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jan. 20, 2021 — While 2020 is over, the effects are still felt, and will continue to be, weeks later. So much has happened these few months. Continuously rising COVID cases, heated outrage of the election results, and an attempted coup of the US Capitol. Some of us are wondering, what do we do? Is there anything that can help stop this outrage? There is a good solution, and that is to work together as a community.

Today I will be presenting an example of how community can cause positive change, like what happened with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

We partially know the event that led up to this. In 1955, Montgomery, Ala., required that African Americans sit in the back half of the bus, as the front was reserved for whites. If the front half of the bus was full, then the African Americans would have to give up their seats for the people up front.

Rosa Parks, a Black woman who was just taking the bus home from work, was sitting in the front row of the  “colored” section. When the front half of the bus reached capacity, the driver, J. Fred Blake, told her and 3 other African Americans to give up their seats for the white men. While the three men complied to the drivers’ order, Parks did not.

Parks was then arrested and fined $10 plus $4 in court fees.

As the news spread throughout the Montgomery city limits, and the nation, a plan was put in place to change the way transportation was carried out.

On Dec. 5, 40,000 African Americans boycotted the system. On that day, the Montgomery Improvement Association was created, and at the helm of it was Martin Luther King Jr.

In his first speech as president of the association, King stated, “We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”

The idea wasn’t about changing the segregation laws. Rather it was about courtesy, such as a first-come, first-seated policy.

That all changed after five Montgomery women, represented by the NAACP, sued the city. While 75% of the bus ridership was made up of African Americans, the boycott itself was not enough to change the minds of those working for the Montgomery Bus System.

It was decided that participants in the boycott would walk to work or their other destinations. To gain more people, the community would hold regular mass meetings.

A Montgomery federal court eventually ruled that the law racially segregating seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The city was resistant at first, but on Dec. 21, 1956, the buses were desegregated. Thus, the boycott finally ended after 381 days.

At the time, King stated, “For more than twelve months now, we, the Negro citizens of Montgomery have been engaged in a non-violent protest against injustices and indignities experienced on city buses. We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So in a quiet dignified manner, we decided to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery until the sagging walls of injustice had been crushed by the battering rams of surging justice.”

However, during the year-plus movement, violence could not be kept at bay. Four black churches were blown up, as well as the homes of some prominent black leaders, including King. In time, the suspects were all arrested.

Ultimately, the community of the bus boycott were able to come together and peacefully protest by boycotting usage of the Montgomery Bus System as a response to the segregation laws. There was no need for violence and riots to change the minds of those in charge of the Montgomery Bus System.

If it worked for them, then why can’t it work for us? Chaos, while immediately effective, only solves the problem in the short run. It eventually becomes predictable and less effective if it is used for a long period of time. Peace is more inviting because it doesn’t show signs of aggression. It is also pretty contagious. If you share your happiness with others, their day may just be better.

With peace, we can bind together a community to get us through tough times. So, if we are to move forward today, let us focus on peace. Because we will all get through this together as a community.