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[AL] Early boycott set stage

Guest columns
ALABAMA VOICES: Early boycott set stage for far more famous one

By Craig Green Cornwell

The civil rights movement was born in Montgomery. It happened as a dispute over mass transit. It was a protest about a law requiring racial separation. Everyone knows all about that. Or do we?

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of a little-known event in Montgomery history -- the Lightning Route boycott -- that was arguably the beginning of the beginning of the civil rights movement. The protest happened on Nov. 23, 1906, and the vehicles involved were not buses, but trolleys.

Montgomerians have been reminded for the past year of the justifiably more famous story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-1956 conducted by black citizens in our city. The boycott is recognized as the catalyst that led government to force an end to legally segregated public life throughout America. This saga is an important part of every modern American history curriculum, with the names and dates memorized by every schoolchild.

It is the story every American citizen knows about Montgomery. Often, it is the only story.

The Jim Crow era origin of the segregation rules Mrs. Parks challenged is a lesser known story, but an intriguing one. The seeds of the 381-day protest of 1955-56 were planted on Nov. 23, 1906, when a new city ordinance was first enforced in Montgomery that totally segregated public transportation.

The ordinance said blacks in all public accommodations had to be completely separated from whites. The law passed did not merely require "back-of-the-bus" partitions between the races, which had been the previous practice. There could be no mixing at all. It was vehicle apartheid.

This city ordinance sparked an unusual forerunner protest over racial discrimination on Montgomery mass transit. This Lightning Route boycott involved streetcar conductors and their management who chose to boycott, or ignore, the new governmental edict.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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