Friday, April 3, 2015

The Automobile and the Civil Rights Movement in America

The Automobile and Civil Rights
Abstractions concerning freedom aside, the car was a real vehicle of freedom for Blacks living in the South during the civil rights struggles of the decade. Thomas J. Sugrue has written that the automobile enabled Blacks to escape “the insults of Jim Crow.”  More specifically, Sugrue states that, “the car provided southern blacks a way to subvert Jim Crow. Driving gave southern blacks a degree of freedom that they did not have on public transportation or in most public places.”10 And Warren Brown, writing in The Washington Post, recalled that in 1955:
            Long before the legendary Rosa Parks defied a white Montgomery bus driver’s order to move to the back of the bus, the city’s blacks had grown weary of such assaults on their dignity. Perhaps it was an accumulation of those frustrations that prompted Parks, on that fateful Thursday, December 1, 1955, to refuse to give up her seat near the front of the bus to allow a white man to sit down. Whatever the cause, she did what she did and blacks in Montgomery supported her by refusing to ride the city’s buses until they could sit wherever they wanted to sit.

            During that boycott, blacks used personal cars to create what was called a “private taxi” system. They shared rides, carried one another to work and to school – and to churches. Black churches bought station wagons to help support the “private taxi” operation.11

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