Segregation Protest at Holt St. Baptist Church

The following are excerpts from an article that ran Dec. 7, 1955, in the Advertiser, the Montgomery, Ala., daily newspaper. Written by Joe Azbell, the paper's city editor, it demonstrates the crucial role churches played in organizing civil rights protests and the importance of Christianity in providing a moral framework for equality.

AS I drove along Cleveland Avenue en route to the Holt Street Baptist Church Monday night, I could see Negroes by the dozens forming a file, almost soldierly, on the sidewalk. They were going to the Rosa Parks protest meeting at the church. There were silent people, bundled in overcoats, performing what appeared to be a ritual. I parked my automobile a block from the church.... The area around the church looked like Cramton Bowl at an Alabama State-Tuskegee football game. Except for one thing: these peop le were stony silent....

The purpose of this meeting was to give "further instructions" on the boycott of city buses which had been started as a protest of the Negroes against the arrest, trial, and conviction of Rosa Parks, 42-year-old seamstress, on a charge of violating segregation laws.

The meeting was started in a most unusual fashion. A Negro speaker - apparently a minister - came to the microphone. He did not introduce himself but apparently most of the Negroes knew him. He said there were microphones on the outside and in the basement, and there were three times as many people outside as on the inside....

The passion that fired the meeting was seen as the thousands of voices joined in singing.... The voices thundered through the church. Then there followed a prayer by a minister.... [He] spoke of God as the Master and the brotherhood of man. He repeated in a different way that God would protect the righteous.

As the other speakers came on the platform urging "freedom and equality" for Negroes "who are Americans and proud of this democracy," the frenzy of the audience mounted. There was a volume of clapping that seemed to boom through the walls. Outside the loudspeakers were blaring the message for blocks. White people stopped blocks away and listened....

The remark which drew the most applause was: "We will not retreat one inch in our fight to secure and hold our American citizenship." Second was a statement: "And the history book will write of us as a race of people who in Montgomery County, State of Alabama, Country of the United States, stood up for and fought for their rights as American citizens, as citizens of democracy."

When the resolution on continuing the boycott of the bus was read, there came a wild whoop of delight. Many said they would never ride the bus again. Negroes turned to each other and compared past incidents on the buses.

At several points there was an emotionalism that the ministers on the platform recognized could get out of control and at various intervals they repeated again and again what "we are seeking by peaceful means."

"There will be no violence or intimidation. We are seeking things in a democratic way and we are using the weapon of protest," the speakers declared.

The meeting was much like an old-fashioned revival with loud applause added. It proved beyond any doubt that there was a discipline among Negroes that many whites had doubted. It was almost a military discipline combined with emotion.

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