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The Supreme Court Declares Bus Segregation Unconstitutional (1956)

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Civil Rights activist Reverend F.L. Shuttlesworth and other African Americans seated on a bus alongside white passengers, Birmingham, Alabama, 1956.

After African Americans boycotted the Montgomery, Alabama bus system for over a year, the local bus company had agreed to desegregate its buses because it had lost so much revenue. The city and state, however, insisted that bus drivers continue to enforce Jim Crow laws. A Federal District Court then ruled that segregation on the buses was illegal. The Supreme Court affirmed that decision, Browder v. Gayle, in November 1956, handing NAACP lawyers a major victory. The following month, when the Supreme Court indicated that it would not hear an appeal of that decision, all avenues to delay bus integration had been exhausted. The next day, December 21, 1956, thousands of black riders were on the buses again -- and sitting in any seats they chose. Yet the troubles did not end. Shots were fired at the buses and Rev. Ralph Abernathy's home and church were bombed. The success of the protests led the boycott leaders to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with another rising community leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as its president.

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