Montgomery Improvement Association

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Montgomery Improvement Association

The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 5, 1955, to direct the black boycott of the city's bus system. Black leaders had called a one-day boycott for December 5, to protest the trial of Mrs. Rosa L. Parks, who had been arrested for violating the city ordinance requiring buses to maintain racially segregated seating. This boycott had proven so successful that on the afternoon of December 5, at a meeting of the community's black leaders at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, those present decided to extend the boycott until the city and the bus company agreed to adopt the bus segregation pattern used in Mobile, Alabama, which did not require the unseating of passengers who were already seated. The leaders decided to create a new organization to run the boycott, and at the suggestion of the Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy (19261990), they named it the Montgomery Improvement Association. Rufus A. Lewis, a local funeral director, then nominated his pastor, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as the association's president. The twenty-six-year-old King was taken by surprise at this unexpected designation, but he accepted it. That night, at a mass meeting at the Holt Street Baptist Church attended by some five thousand people, black Montgomerians ratified these actions.

Perhaps the MIA's most important achievement during the course of the boycott was the organization of an efficient car-pool operation to replace the buses. Without this operation to get the mass of black participants to and from work, the boycott would soon have begun to weaken, and it was the ability of blacks to create and administer such an operation that most confounded the expectations of their white segregationist opponents. Rufus Lewis ran the car pool during the first six months of the boycott, and he was succeeded in May 1956 by the Reverend B. J. Simms. Almost equally as important as the car pool were the MIA's weekly mass meetings. These meetings, held in rotation at each of the city's principal black churches, were an effective means of maintaining the enthusiasm and commitment of the boycott's participants.

The MIA was governed by a self-constituted board of directors, consisting primarily of the leaders who had attended the December 5 organizational meeting. When a vacancy occurred, the remaining members selected a person to fill it. The only white member was the Reverend Robert Graetz, a Lutheran pastor of an all-black congregation. The board proved extremely reluctant to move beyond the initial black demand for a more acceptable pattern of seating segregation. Throughout the boycott's first two months, board members refused to permit the association's attorney, Fred D. Gray, to file suit in federal court seeking a declaration that seating segregation ordinances were unconstitutional. Only when the Martin Luther King's home was bombed on January 30, 1956, was the board pushed into authorizing the suit. The resultant case, Browder v. Gayle, produced the U.S. Supreme Court's holding that bus segregation laws violated the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, and thus led to a successful conclusion of the boycott on December 21, 1956.

The association continued to exist after the boycott. It became one of the founding organizations of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, conducted a largely ineffective voter registration drive in Montgomery, sought unsuccessfully to create a credit union for blacks, and in 1958 sponsored the filing of a suit to integrate the city's parks and playgrounds, a suit that only resulted in the city's closure of all of them. The MIA threatened a suit to integrate Montgomery's schools, but the suit was never filed. King moved to Atlanta in 1960, and Abernathy followed him there in 1961. After this, the association became less and less active. Its last important achievement came in the spring of 1962, when, under the leadership of the Reverend Solomon S. Seay Sr., it managed to persuade the bus company to hire blacks as bus drivers, an action that had been one of the original demands of the boycott. Seay was succeeded by the Reverend Jesse Douglas, and Douglas by Mrs. Johnnie Carr. By the last decades of the twentieth century, however, the MIA had ceased to play any active role in the life of the community.

See also Abernathy, Ralph David; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Montgomery, Ala., Bus Boycott; Parks, Rosa; Southern Christian Leadership Conference


Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow, 1986.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York: Harper, 1958.

Thornton, J. Mills, III. "Challenge and Response in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 19551956." Alabama Review 33 (1989): 163235.

j. mills thornton iii (1996)

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Montgomery Improvement Association

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Montgomery Improvement Association