Why did the boycott of Montgomery's buses succeed? (Read each source below, then answer the questions in the notebook. Ask your teacher for an inquiry organizer worksheet to help you think about the ways that the sources support and contradict each other.)


READ: Robinson on the boycott leaflet campaign

Head Note: Here, Jo Ann Robinson explains how she and others produced and distributed the leaflet calling for a boycott in time for thousands of African Americans to stay off the buses on Monday morning, December 5, 1955. Just before she began this work, Robinson and E.D. Nixon had decided over the phone to call for a boycott.

I sat down and quickly drafted a message and then called a good friend and colleague... who had access to the college’s mimeograph equipment.2 When I told him that the WPC was staging a boycott and needed to run off the notices, he told me that he too had suffered embarrassment on the city buses.... Along with two of my most trusted senior students, we quickly agreed to meet almost immediately, in the middle of the night, at the college’s duplicating room. We were able to get three messages to a page... in order to produce the tens of thousands of leaflets1 we knew would be needed. By 4 a.m. Friday, the sheets had been duplicated, cut in thirds, and bundled....

Between 4 and 7 a.m., the two students and I mapped out distribution routes for the notices. Some of the WPC officers previously had discussed how and where to deliver thousands of leaflets announcing a boycott, and those plans now stood me in good stead....

After class my two students and I quickly finalized our plans for distributing the thousands of leaflets so that one would reach every black home in Montgomery. I took out the WPC membership roster and called [them].... I alerted all of them to the forthcoming distribution of the leaflets, and enlisted their aid in speeding and organizing the distribution network....

Throughout the late morning and early afternoon hours we dropped off tens of thousands of leaflets. Some of our bundles were dropped off at schools.... Leaflets were also dropped off at business places, storefronts, beauty parlors, beer halls, factories, barber shops, and every other available place. Workers would pass along notices both to other employees as well as to customers....

By 2 o’clock thousands of the mimeographed handbills had changed hands many times. Practically every black man, woman, and child in Montgomery knew the plan and was passing the word along....

1In her memoir, Robinson estimates that they produced 52,500 leaflets.

2This refers to the machines used to make copies in the 1950s. This was a time consuming process that was considerably more involved than making a photocopy today. Additionally, during the 1950s there were no cell phones, e-mail accounts, fax machines, or answering machine with which people could communicate.

Source: Excerpt from Jo Ann Robinson’s memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It, pp. 45-47, 1987. Knoxville, Tennessee.

USE THE NOTEBOOK (instructions):

To answer these questions, log in below

Sourcing: Consider a document's attribution (both its author and how the document came into being).

When did Robinson write this? How might this detail influence our judgment of this document?

Contextualizing: Situate the document and events it reports in place and time.

What resources were in place that helped Robinson with the leaflets?

Close Reading: Read carefully to consider what a source says and the language used to say it.

Many accounts of the Montgomery Bus Boycott say that once Parks was arrested, the boycott happened. According to Robinson, what happened in between the arrest and the start of the boycott?

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