Boycott (2000)

 

 

Director:    Clark Johnson.

Starring:     Iris Little Thomas (Rosa Parks), Jeffrey Wright (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Terrence Howard (Ralph David Abernathy), Carmen Ejogo (Coretta King), CCH Pounder (Jo Ann Robinson), Erik Todd Dellums (Bayard Rustin), Reg E. Cathey (E.D. Nixon), Brent Jennings (Rufus Lewis), Shawn Michael (Howard Fred Gray), Clark Johnson (Emory Jackson), Mike Hodge (Daddy King), Mert Hatfield (Mayor Gayle), Danny Nelson (Commissioner Parks).

Made for HBO movie.

The story of the Montgomery bus boycott that started the American civil rights movement using actors combined with real and fictional documentary footage.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a single act of defiance united a community, ignited a movement and gave voice to a new leader."

During the period of separate but equal segregation, black paid at the front of the bus, but get on the bus from the rear side door.  A black woman is arrested on the bus for not sitting in the back.  One day Rosa Parks, secretary for the N.A.A.C.P, rides the bus and the bus driver tells her to move back to the colored section, because a white man needs her seat.  Rosa says:  "No!"  The bus driver is shocked at her reaction.  He even explains that it is the law.  He has to enforce the laws of segregation.  Rosa won't move.  She just tells him:  "You go on.  You do what you got to do."  Of course, she is arrested for breaking the segregation laws. 

At home Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Corretta dance for awhile.

N.A.A.C.P. lawyers tell Mr. Parks that this defiance by his wife gives them a great opportunity to challenger the bus segregation law.  Rosie is the perfect plaintiff.  She has been secretary for ten years, light skinned and educated.  Husband Raymond says no good is going to come out of this situation.  In the kitchen alone wither her husband, Rosa asks him to support her. 

News of the bus boycott beginning Monday is run off a mimeograph machine. 

Martin will be giving a speech at the beginning of his career as a preacher at Dexter Baptist Church, a church of the black elite of Montgomery.  He has to plan carefully his speech for these "fancy" people expect a high tone from their preachers.  Eating dinner with him is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who says at his church things are "downright noisy".  

E. D. Nixon and a female supporter hand out notices about the bus boycott.   Nixon doesn't see how they can get the news out to all the blacks in Montgomery without the help of the ministers of the churches.  That won't be easy.  Speaking of the reverends, the woman tells him:  "They're well-fed, comfortable men with good shoes.  Ain't one of them ever even been on a bus." 

E. D.  has asked King for permission to use his church for a boycott meeting, because it is "neutral ground".  Coretta thinks her husband is going to be taking on too many duties with the coming of the boycott.   At the meeting there is a big row between the various ministers, vying for leadership of the boycott.  King and Abernathy are in the back.  Abernathy gets everyone to quiet down to ask that they approve a one day boycott just to see what happens. 

Coretta and Martin watch the bus come past their street.  It's empty!  Black are taking cabs or walking to work. 

The judge finds Rosa Parks guilty of violating a state segregation statute.  He fines her $10 dollars plus $4 dollars court costs.  The lawyers says that Mrs. Parks is not going to pay the fine and she will appeal the decision.  The judge sets the appeal bond at $100 dollars.  E. D. Nixon runs the next meeting at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  He says they need to elect a leader for the boycott.  Mr. Lewis gets up to say that they need a leader for the entire community.  He ought to be young and strong.  He nominates as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Abernathy seconds the nomination.

Abernathy tells King that he is the perfect choice.  He has only been in Montgomery a year, therefore he doesn't have any real enemies.  And, if he fails, it will be the fault of the new leader and not the fault of any well-established city leader.  At home King almost immediately gets to work on what he is going to say in support of the boycott.  At night he speaks before the meeting of the supporters of the boycott. He says:  "And we are determined to work together, here in Montgomery!  To work and to fight until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream!" 

The whites response is to say that Negro goon squads are intimidating the coloreds to stay off the buses.  The mayor of Montgomery refers to "outside agitators" and other unlawful elements.  Another response is to call the King home with threats to harm him and his family.  Coretta is very worried about the threats.  Her husband tells her that they will be meeting with the mayor and the city council and they have to compromise. 

The mayor and the council, however, have other ideas.  They won't compromise, not even on the request that black people be treated respectfully by the bus drivers.  The white deny that the white bus drivers are ever discourteous, but Miss Robinson says that she has seen bus drivers physically throw black women off the buses.   The city also raises the minimum charge for a taxi ride from 10 cents to 45 cents.  Many of the blacks cannot afford the cost.  The boycott leadership decides to use car pooling in response to the Taxi rate hike.

Abernathy uses his pulpit to raise support for the boycott.  King asks his congregation to supply cars for the car pools.  The bus company is losing about 30,000 Negro fares every day.  The boycott is going to need rides for 20,000 people a day.  That work out so fare to 130 rides per day per car or truck. They need more cars. 

King gets a call from Mr. Milton of the Dexter board reminding him that he is still the pastor of a church.  He implied that the last pastor (the Rev. Vernon Johns) was fired for his radical political views. 

E. D. Nixon gets a call that some white vandals are slashing tires at the Day Street lot.  Volunteers start watching over the cars at night.  At the next city council meeting, the President of the White Citizen's Council, Mr. Ingalls, makes an appearance.  King strongly protests the presence of Ingalls.  Ingalls says there's no difference between him representing the white people, as King represents the black people.  King says Ingalls's organization is openly racist.  The other white racists stick up for Mr. Ingalls saying that King is being intolerant of the opinions of others.  (Doesn't this just make you sick?  PLC)

After the meeting Abernathy tells King that the whites are not negotiating in good faith.  This is more like a battle to see which side can last the longest.  At home Coretta starts driving people to help the boycott.  Through a bad rainstorm, the boycott holds. 

A well-known black newsman calls King to tell him that the papers are going to print that the Montgomery bus boycott has been settled.  The boycott leaders say they must get the word out that the boycott is still on.  King and Abernathy go visit a dive to tell the non-church goers to continue the boycott.  At home King arrives home late. 

The fear is that someone on the MIA board is talking to the whites behind their backs.  They go talk to one of those who talked to the whites and the reverend tells King and Abernathy that the whites called them out for what was supposed to be an insurance settlement.  They acted like the boycott had already been settled, so they signed something that was not true.  The reverend agrees to tell the truth to as many people as he can reach. 

The whites claim that they had an agreement to end the boycott but the Negro leaders betrayed them.  What the black leaders are asking for "is the destruction of our social fabric, our way of life."  The white police start ticketing everyone who drives for the boycott.  With too many tickets, the police can start confiscating cars.  King drives some women and is stopped by a police officer.  He tells King to step out of the car.  He manhandles King and then puts him under arrest without cause. 

Black people start a watch at the police station.  King is let go.  He embraces Coretta.  Abernathy introduces King to his new driver.  They can't have King driving anymore.  "It ain't worth the risk."  King receives more threatening phone calls.  He prays and asks God to help him by giving him the strength to continue the fight. 

People realize that a police car has been park far too long next to the boycott headquarters.  Abernathy asks if the landlord is white?  Yes.  Abernathy tells everyone to grab what they can and get out of the building.  "If they evict us, they can keep everything in here."  They all go out a side exit. 

The police start giving tickets to white ladies who are driving for the boycott. 

Rev. Banyon says they ought to end the boycott, but most people shout at him.  Attorney Gray drafts a lawsuit that demand that the city segregation laws be declared null and void.  Rev. Banyon says:  "That's a declaration of war.  You're gonna give them reason to kill us."  The whites start complaining:  "The Negroes are tryin' to make this a federal case, but we're not going to let that happen."  They are going to "get tough" with the people. 

King's house is bombed.  King rushes home to comfort Coretta.  The police tell the people gathered at the house that they are offering $500 dollars for information leading to the arrest of the bomber.  The people are not impressed.  King comes out to tell the people to go home.  The people want to see Coretta, so Rev. King asks her to come forward.  She comes out and the people see she is all in one piece. They start going home. 

King tells Coretta to take their baby Yolanda and leave Montgomery.  He wants her to stay with his parents in Atlanta.  Black workmen start repairing the house.  Martin's father comes to see the house.  He tells Martin that he and his family are in peril.  He can run the boycott from Atlanta.  Martin says:  "I can't walk away.  I won't."  And if Martin is staying, Coretta says she is staying. 

Six representatives of the Klan in their white sheets and hoods walk through the black area.  Bayard Rustin arrives in Montgomery and signs in at a hotel.  The clerk warns him about walking alone at night.  Bayard says he will take his chances.  The police stop him and grill him about what is he doing down here in Montgomery when he is from New York City?   He tells them he works for two European newspapers.  They let him go and he continues his walk to the King house.

Coretta tells Rustin that she heard him speak on non-violence when she was just a student at Antioch College.  They are now 77 days into the boycott.  Rustin says that King is inventing a new form of protest, a combination of mass action and black social gospel.  He is supportive, but he does urge King to get rid of the guns that the guards are carrying. 

King introduces Rustin to the rest of the black leadership.  He urges them to take the message of non-violence to the rest of the South.  And then they have to teach the nation.  Rustin urges them "to stop thinking about this as just a bus boycott."  And, he tells them, they cannot win this war unless there are similar protests all over the South. 

E. D. Nixon has a shed of his burned to the ground.  The white fire department just stand around and watch it burn.  Nixon tells King he wants to hurt the people who did this, but King is sticking to non-violence.  King speaks up for non-violence  from the pulpit.  Rustin urges him to give a speech before a Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee because:  "If you don't go national, you're gonna lose locally."

The mayor announces the indictments brought by the grand jury against everybody on the MIA committee.  They will all be subject to arrest.  Rustin tells the committee members that they have to get rid of their fear of going to jail.  Daddy King tries to keep his son from returning to Montgomery.  Martin won't stay away from Montgomery.  Nor will Coretta. 

Abernathy tells King that the police are going to arrest Rustin.  This will provide the whites with their "outside agitator".  Besides, Rustin did have ties with the Communist Party and that's going to hurt the movement.  People will say it is a "communist plot".  King talks to Rustin who admits he is an ex-communist, ex-con, a bastard and a homosexual.  Rustin is not upset about leaving Montgomery, because he is convinced King's movement will succeed.  He says:  "Tomorrow, a spotlight will shine down on Montgomery, one that will galvanize this country."   They put Rustin in the trunk of a car and spirit him away. 

In front of the news media, King says:  "This is not a war between the Negro and the white.  This is a conflict between justice and injustice.  . . . We are using the weapon of love." 

E. D. Nixon turns himself over to the white police.  The other members of the committee get together and go down to see the police.  King and Abernathy are there, along with Rosa Parks.  They all file into police headquarters. 

"On November 13, 19567, the Supreme Court sided with the Montgomery Improvement Association and struck down the Alabama bus segregation law as unconstitutional."

King says there is now a motion on the floor to end the 13 month long public transportation boycott in Montgomery.  There is near unanimous support of the motion as the jump up and start clapping for it.   

"The Montgomery bus boycott ended after 318 days.  It is widely considered to be the birth of the modern Civil Rights Movement."

 

Good movie.  It shows the terrible injustices of the white segregation system against the blacks.  And it also shows the viewer what it means to have a "non-violent" movement.  King new the blacks could not out gun the whites.  They had to use non-violence.  As King says:  they are slaying injustice by using love to confront the hatred of the white man for the black man.  The non-violent aspect then made it easy for whites outside the South to push for the abolition of Southern apartheid.   A proponent of racial equality beaten for his or her beliefs was now a subject not for the fear of non-Southern whites but for their sympathy.  And it was this non-violence that was the key to the victory of the Civil Rights Movement.  (And it's a much braver thing to do than to use violence to kill whites in the dark, which would only have killed the Civil Rights Movement).  You've go to kill hate with love, not with more hate. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1955 December 1  --  Rosa Parks, secretary of the local N.A.A.C.P., is arrested after refusing to surrender her seat in a "whites only" section of a public bus.

A group of black leaders decide to boycott the bus company to get the segregation law changed. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is picked as the leader of the boycott because he was new and had not made enemies of any faction in Montgomery.  Blacks refused to ride public buses.  They either walked or car-pooled instead.

King's home was bombed and King and over 100 other black leaders were indicted by local city officials.

1956  November 13  --  the Supreme Court strikes down the city's bus-segregation laws as unconstitutional.

 

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