Abernathy remembers the first meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association
Head Note: In the following excerpt, Reverend Ralph Abernathy remembers the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) at a local Baptist church on the first day of the boycott. After this, the MIA held regular weekly meetings until the boycott ended.
We, M.L. King and I, went to the meeting together. It was drizzling; I had been working up until the last minute on the resolutions. I was given instructions: one, to call off the protest, or two, if indicated, to continue the protest until the grievances were granted. We had had a successful "one-day protest," but we feared that if we extended it beyond the first day, we might fail; it might be better after all to call the protest off, and then we could hold this "one-day boycott" as a threat for future negotiations. However, we were to determine whether to continue the protest by the size of the crowds....
When we got about twenty blocks from the church we saw cars parked solid... as we got closer to the church we saw a great mass of people. The Montgomery Advertiser estimated the crowd at approximately 7,000 persons all trying to get in a church that will accommodate less than 1,000. It took us about fifteen minutes to work our way through the crowd by pleading: "Please let us through—-we are Reverend King and Reverend Abernathy. Please permit us to get through...."
Those inside applauded for at least ten minutes.
It was apparent that the people were with us. It was then that all of the ministers who had previously refused to take part in the program came up to Reverend King and me to offer their services. This expression of togetherness on the part of the masses was obviously an inspiration to the leadership and helped to rid it of the cowardly, submissive, over timidity.
We began the meeting by singing Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War ....
Mrs. Rosa Parks was presented to the mass meeting because we wanted her to become symbolic of our protest movement. Following her we presented Mr. Daniels, who happily for our meeting had been arrested on that day.... The appearance of these persons created enthusiasm, thereby giving momentum to the movement.
We then heard the resolutions calling for the continuation of the boycott... unanimously and enthusiastically adopted by the 7,000 individuals both inside and outside the church....
Source: Excerpt from Ralph Abernathy’s thesis for his master’s degree, The Natural History of a Social Movement, 1958. Atlanta, Georgia.