Jo Ann Robinson & The Montgomery Bus Boycott
For 381 days, almost the entire African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama, led by Jo Ann Robinson, refused to ride on segregated buses, a turning point in the American civil rights movement.
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson was born on April 17, 1912, in Culloden, Georgia. Jo Ann was valedictorian of her high school graduating class and became the first college graduate of her family when she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1934.
Following her graduation, Robinson became a public school teacher in Macon, Georgia.
In 1949, Robinson moved to Montgomery to teach. She experienced the prejudices underlying racial segregation firsthand when she was screamed at for sitting in the empty white section of a city bus; the driver pulled over to yell at her and Robinson fled the bus, fearing that he would hit her. Disgusted by the incident, she began to mobilise against the segregated city bus system.
When Robinson became president of the WPC in 1950, she focused the organization’s efforts on desegregating buses. The city’s leadership was not interested in integrating buses, however, so Robinson conceptualised a boycott.
Following the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, Robinson distributed a flyer that she’d written urging for Montgomery’s African Americans to boycott city buses on December 5 of that year. With the help of John Cannon, chairman of Alabama State’s business department at the time, and two students, Robinson distributed more than 50,000 flyers overnight calling for the boycott.
When the boycott proved successful, the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by Martin Luther King Jr., came to manage its continuation.
For her role as a leader of the boycott, Robinson was arrested and targeted with violence; police officers threw a rock into her window and poured acid on her car. The harassment became so bad that state police were requested to guard her home. The boycott continued until June 5, 1956, when a federal district court declared segregating seating unconstitutional.
Robinson died in Los Angeles on August 29, 1992.