Abernathy remembers the first meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association (Modified)

Some of the language and phrasing in this document has been modified from the original.

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.

M.L. King and I went to the meeting together. I was given instructions: one, to call off the protest, or two, to continue the protest until our requests 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 to call the protest off, and then we could hold this “one-day boycott” as a threat for future talks.

However, we were to decide whether to continue the protest by the size of the crowds. When we got about 20 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 about 7,000 persons all trying to get in a church that will fit less than 1,000. It took us about 15 minutes to work our way through the crowd by pleading: “Please let us through—we are Reverend King and Reverend Abernathy.”

Those inside the church applauded for at least ten minutes.

It was obvious 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.

We began the meeting by singing Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War.

Mrs. Rosa Parks was presented to the 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 motions calling to continue the boycott, unanimously and enthusiastically adopted by the 7,000 people 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.