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Martin Luther King Jr.: 8 peaceful protests that bolstered civil rights

From 1955 until his death in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was the dominant leader of the US civil rights movement. Following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Dr. King believed that nonviolent protest is the most effective weapon against a racist and unjust society. But it required rallying people to his cause. Here are some of the most revolutionary peaceful protests King led.

- Andrew MachContributor

A driver in an empty bus moves through downtown Montgomery, Ala., on April 26, 1956. African-Americans in the city continued to boycott the buses even after the bus company ordered an end to its segregation policy. City police, however, threatened arrest if black passengers sat in seats formerly reserved for whites. The 'Ease that Squeeze' sign refers to traffic problems, not seating on the bus. (AP/File)

1. Montgomery bus boycott, 1955-56

Lasting just over a year, the Montgomery bus boycott was a protest campaign against racial segregation on the public transit system in Montgomery, Ala. The protest began, on Dec. 1, 1955, after African-American Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. The next day, Dr. King proposed a citywide boycott of public transportation at a church meeting.

The boycott proved to be effective, causing the transit system to run a huge deficit. After all, Montgomery’s black residents not only were the principal boycotters, but also the bulk of the transit system’s paying customers. The situation became so tense that members of the White Citizens' Council, a group that opposed racial integration, firebombed King's house. 

In June 1956, a federal court found that the laws in Alabama and Montgomery requiring segregated buses were unconstitutional. However, an appeal kept segregation intact until Dec. 20, 1956, when the US Supreme Court upheld the district court's ruling. The boycott's official end signaled one of the civil rights movement's first victories and made King one of its central figures.


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