How has the Montgomery Bus Boycott influenced modern society or not through the four lenses of history, humanities, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences
Lens Connections in History:
The Montgomery Bus Boycott not only precipitated the black community to ride the Montgomery bus system as freely as their white peers, it stood as the catalyst to the rise of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement (Hare, 2005). In terms of the history of this movement, the boycott marked a turning point towards ending black segregation in America. Therefore, its significance in American history is seminal, sparking a US Supreme Court ruling which ended segregation, thirteen months after Rosa Parks’ action which precipitated the bus boycott.
Historically, the bus boycott also provided evidence of the success of non-violent protest, a means of persuasion advocated by the President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Martin Luther King. In social terms the boycott was a boost to those who advocated better rights for black Americans and the Supreme Court ruling paved the way for future intervention to allow black Americans more equality with their white peers. Of course, it is only with the benefit of hindsight that one can judge the boycott as the start of the rise of Martin Luther King and his impact on racial equality, yet looking back it is possible to see that Rosa Parks with her ‘impeccable’ moral character (Hare, 2005) making a dignified stand for equality sparked her fellow men and women into action and proved to be the catalyst for action to facilitate change.
The inequality which existed in 1950s America and long before and since can be analysed using conflict theory which suggests that competing groups seek to gain access to resources to which both aspire. Viewed with conflict theory, the white majority sought to maintain social superiority over black Americans to maintain dominance. The bus boycott challenged this theory to upset the situation which the white supremacists had enforced for decades. The conflict between the white majority and those who sought racial integration utilised conflict, albeit mostly peaceful to bring change for the black Americans who strove for more integration (Williams, 1976).
Lens Connections in Humanities:
One of the aspects of culture and society which the Montgomery Bus Boycott highlights is the resilience and determination of black Americans to rise up and challenge that which they perceive to be unjust. The black citizens of Montgomery had the ability to persuade their fellows to cease using the Montgomery bus system and to finally acquiesce that nothing would change if action were not taken (Hughes, 2013). The boycott impacted American law, forcing the establishment of the Supreme Court to overthrow the segregation of blacks and whites on the bus system. The boycott impacted the media as television and newspapers realised that a monumental story was unfolding in Alabama. The resulting integration had an impact on schools and colleges. As black activists realised that an organized, solid, non-violent approach yielded success, they joined to challenge segregation in other areas of American society. There was jubilation at the cessation of bus segregation and it remains an event in American civil rights history which is regarded as immensely significant. As a result, the incident has been represented in film, theatre, and other creative media. As Rosa Parks became a figurehead in the civil rights history, students in school were encouraged to write historical fiction inspired by the fortitude and courage of this lady whose character allowed a movement of strength to be built around her actions (Hughes, 2013). The message of Rosa Parks and the bus boycott is that it is possible to make a stand against what one believes is wrong and that consistent, peaceful action brings results. It has stood as a beacon to those who seek social change to create powerful creative work inspired by the message which the bus boycott represented. Today, whilst it is commonplace to travel alongside travellers many ethnic diversities, it is because of incidents such as the bus boycott that freedom of travel exists in America in 2020. It stands as an example of the monstrous treatment of those people of colour from the last century and reminds the new generations that both personally and professionally, racial equality is a cause worth fighting for.
Viewed within the confines of the framing theory, the cultural aspect of the Montgomery bus boycott can be seen as a significant event which was brought to the attention of the majority of America and the world through the medium of the newspaper (Flournoy, 2003). However, the journalists who reported the story framed events according to their own prejudices or assumptions and the information they provided was seen through their view of the world, thus it was ‘framed’ for the public. How much this influenced the opinions of the readers is a topic worth investigating.
Lens Connections in Natural Sciences:
The 1950s was a decade when there were breakthroughs in natural sciences as well as racial equality. Geneticists discovered what many had believed all along that there was no such thing as a there was no such thing as a ‘pure’ race and that biologically, skin colour meant little in terms of biological difference or evolution of factors such as intelligence (Skibba, 2019). Whilst the Jewish Holocaust was the zenith of trying to prove this hideous suggestion, there was now more concrete biological evidence that beneath the skin pumped the same blood to the same hearts. For those institutions which remained steadfast in their belief in segregation and inequality, such revelations provided little comfort. Yet they gave new vigour and hope to those seeking to establish black civil rights on American society.
Yet Skibba (2019) suspects that racial prejudice in science still exists, quoting W. E. B. Du Bois’ observation: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” There are still geneticists which purport the idea that racial differences account for variations in intelligence and biology. Whilst there is no direct correlation between genetics and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, there is a shift away from the idea that race equates to biological differences of disease, cleanliness, or purity. As the civil rights movement took hold, more acceptance of these ideas filtered through into society, reaching the level of equality America enjoys in the twenty first century. Indeed, those scientists who attempt to peddle their views among established journals and had to resort to publishing their own journal in 1961 from which they found no opposition (Skibba, 2019).
The theory of natural selection or eugenics is advocated by those who believed that it was possible to create more ‘perfect’ human beings through reproduction of those with the most desirable traits (Norrgard, 2008). They believed that undesirable traits such as immorality and criminality could be inherited, thus the survival of the human race was best advance through elimination of those who exhibited these traits. Those with racist tendencies allocated such traits to people of colour and thus advocated eugenics to eliminate what they viewed as undesirable human attributes. Whilst the Nuremberg Code of 1947 encouraged a more ethical approach to research, there is still a controversy today about the selection of ‘designer babies’ which can be born free of genetic disorders which may be inherited from their parents (Norrgard, 2008).
Lens Connections in Social Sciences:
The implications of the Montgomery bus boycott are significant for sociologists. Social discrimination is a phenomena which elicits great debate on both sides. Despite the shift which the boycott initiated, there remains great racial divide in America and across the world and this is a social issue which remains a barrier to many people of colour today (Krysan et al, 2004). Racism is an emotive issue and can provide leverage for political movements and elections and can direct social policy. The boycott thrust the spotlight on the issue of racism and segregation, yet it did not remove the issue. Those who live in a world dominated by white fellows may believe they have no racist views, whilst not challenging the divides which exist in society in a proactive way. Therefore, racism remains a divisive and persistent aspect of society in many countries even in the twenty first century (Krysan et al, 2004). Whilst great changes have been made in the last fifty years there remains what Krysan et al, (2004) describe as a ‘tendency to downplay, ignore or minimize the contemporary potency of racial discrimination’ possibly as a result of such strides against racial inequality. It can be a challenge for people of colour to explain to their non-coloured fellows that a start has been made, but it is nowhere near enough to redress the balance of inequality which the Montgomery Bus Boycott highlighted.
Once again this draws attention to the issue of framing theory by white people in terms of their views of racism. In order to assuage their conscience some may believe that racism is decreasing yet they have framed that view according to their own experience or choice of what information to believe and what to disbelieve (Elias & Feagin, 2016). The authors highlight how institutional and structural racism is downplayed or evaded and which is challenged by people of colour when situations are viewed through their eyes.
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Elias, S. & Feagin, J. R., (2016), Racial Theories in Social Science (New Critical Viewpoints on Society)
Flournoy, J. C., (2003), Reporting the movement in black and white: the Emmett Till lynching and the Montgomery bus boycott, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College
Hare, K. M., (2005), They Walked to Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Spotlight Press
Hughes, R., (2013), Why Historical Fiction Writing? Helping Students Think Rigorously and Creatively, Social Studies and the Young Learner 26 (2), pp. 17–23, National Council for the Social Studies
Krysan, M. & Lewis, A. E., (2004), The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity, Russell Sage Foundation
Norrgard, K. (2008) Human testing, the eugenics movement, and IRBs. Nature Education 1(1):170
Skibba, R., (2019), The Disturbing Resilience of Scientific Racism, Smithsonian Magazine
Williams, J. T., (1976), Conflict Theory and Race Conflict, Social Science, Vol. 51, No. 1 (Winter 1976), pp. 32-36