Listen: How women made the Montgomery bus boycott a reality

Rosa Parks after having been arrested in February 1956 during the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott started on Dec. 5, 1955, four days after Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

While most people know about Rosa Parks’ role in the Montgomery bus boycott, women’s behind-the-scenes organizing efforts made the boycott successful, an expert explains.

“People know about Rosa Parks. People know about Martin Luther King Jr.—and they should. And they know that it was the Montgomery bus boycott that ignited a certain kind of Southern civil rights movement,” says Ula Taylor, a professor in the African American studies department at the University of California, Berkeley.

Taylor says the work by the Women’s Political Council, led by Jo Ann Robinson, was key to the boycott.

“Even though these women were not in the limelight, they were engaging in a form of leadership,” says Taylor. “But because we live in a country in a culture where we oftentimes identify leadership as a talking head, we don’t understand all of the thinking that goes behind a lot of the ideas that the talking head is even articulating.”

“Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazing, charismatic leader for all of us, but it was because of the Women’s Political Council that provided an anchor and grounding for him to even come into prominence,” Taylor says.

Listen to a podcast episode featuring a 2018 interview with Taylor. This new version has been rewritten and remixed:

Source: UC Berkeley