Nixon, Edgar Daniel

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Nixon, Edgar Daniel

July 12, 1899
February 25, 1987

The civil rights leader Edgar Daniel Nixon was born in Robinson Springs, near Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Wesley and Susan (Chappell) Nixon. Wesley Nixon was a tenant farmer and, in later years, a Primitive Baptist preacher. Susan Nixon died when her son was nine, and the boy was reared in Montgomery by his paternal aunt, Winnie Bates, a laundress. He received only the most rudimentary education and at thirteen began full-time work, initially in a meatpacking plant, then on construction crews, and in 1918 as a baggage handler at Montgomery's railway station. Thanks to friendships that he made in this job, he managed in 1923 to obtain employment as a Pullman car porter, a position that he held until his retirement in 1964.

Exposed by his work to the world beyond Montgomery, Nixon grew increasingly hostile to racial segregation. He became an enthusiastic proponent of A. Philip Randolph's (18891979) efforts in the late 1920s and early 1930s to unionize the Pullman porters, and in 1938 he accepted the presidency of the new union's Montgomery local. In 1943 he organized the Alabama Voters League to press for the registration of Montgomery's blacks as voters, and though the campaign provoked a vigorous white counterattack, Nixon himself achieved registration in 1945.

Montgomery's black community was sharply divided between the middle-class professionals who resided near the campus of Alabama State College for Negroes and the working-class blacks who lived in the city's western neighborhoods. When the Montgomery branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), dominated by the Alabama State College professionals, failed to support Nixon's voter registration drive actively, Nixon began organizing the poorer blacks of western Montgomery in an effort to take over the branch. In a series of acrimonious campaigns, he was defeated for branch president in 1944, elected in 1945, and re-elected in 1946.

In 1947 Nixon was elected the NAACP's state president, defeating the incumbent, the Birmingham newspaper editor Emory O. Jackson. But national NAACP officials, hostile to his lack of education, arranged in 1949 for his defeat for re-election to the state post, and in 1950 he also was ousted from the leadership of the Montgomery branch. In 1952, however, he won election as president of the Montgomery chapter of the Progressive Democratic Association, the voice of Alabama's black Democrats. And in 1954 he created a great stir in the city by becoming a candidate to represent his precinct on the county Democratic Executive Committee. Although his bid was unsuccessful, he was the first black to seek public office in Montgomery in the twentieth century.

During his years with the NAACP, Nixon had become a close friend of Rosa L. Parks (b. 1913), the branch secretary. When Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, for a violation of the city's bus segregation ordinance, she called Nixon for assistance. After he bailed her out of jail, Nixon began calling other black leaders to suggest a boycott of the buses on the day of Parks's trial, December 5, to show support for her. The idea, which black leaders had frequently discussed in the past, was greeted enthusiastically by many. The black Women's Political Council began circulating leaflets urging the action, and black ministers supported it from their pulpits. The boycott on December 5 proved so successful that black leaders decided to extend it until the city and the bus company agreed to adopt a pattern of bus segregation that would not require the unseating of passengers who were already seated. The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed to run the boycott, and Nixon was chosen the organization's treasurer.

Nixon, however, became increasingly unhappy with the association's president, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He associated King with the Alabama State College professionals, and he felt that King's growing fame was depriving the mass of poorer blacks whom Nixon represented, and Nixon himself, of the credit for the boycott's success. After King moved to Atlanta in 1960, and the Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy followed him there in 1961, Nixon engaged in a lengthy struggle with Rufus A. Lewis, the most prominent figure among his rivals in the middle-class Alabama State College community, for leadership of Montgomery's blacks. The struggle culminated in the 1968 U.S. presidential election, when Nixon and Lewis served on alternative slates of presidential electors, both of which were pledged to Democratic candidate Hubert H. Humphrey. The Lewis slate of electors defeated Nixon's slate handily in Montgomery. Nixon thereafter slipped into an embittered obscurity. He accepted a job organizing recreational activities for young people in one of the city's poorest public-housing projects, a position that he held until just before his death in 1987.

See also Abernathy, Ralph David; Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Montgomery Improvement Association; Montgomery, Ala., Bus Boycott; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Parks, Rosa


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

Thornton, J. Mills, III. "Challenge and Response in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 19551956." Alabama Review 33 (1980): 163235.

j. mills thornton iii (1996)

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