From our archives: ‘Desegregation: Economic Weapons’

This Monitor editorial from March 24, 1956, about the Montgomery bus boycott opposed it on the grounds that boycotts are damaging to “both races and to the South as a whole.” The editorial goes on to say segregation is a manifestation of “white supremacy,” which is “not pretty even when as unconscious as the discrimination practiced in the North.” Part of a 2019 archival project on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Negroes of Montgomery, Alabama, have started something which will not be stopped by the conviction of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the charge of organizing an illegal boycott. The bus boycott is not halted. Trials of 89 other defendants were suspended pending appeal of the King case, and that may take several years to reach a final adjudication.

It is difficult to see how that process can do anything but hurt the segregationists’ cause. For even eventual upholding of this conviction – which is by no means certain – would kill the idea of nonviolent use of economic power. Meanwhile at every step there would probably be a continuance of bad publicity for the methods adopted to enforce white supremacy. Also, unhappily, there may be a spreading use and abuse of boycotts, damaging to both races and to the South as a whole.

The Montgomery boycott developed as a protest by most of the city’s 50,000 Negroes against discrimination on the busses. In the King trial there was abundant testimony intended to show justification – which might be a defense under the law. It left little doubt that treatment of the Negroes on busses fulfilled but half of the “separate but equal” standard.

Southerners honestly convinced that the two races will do better if kept separate – at least in certain associations – will find their case damaged by the ugly evidence of insult and humiliation in this record. Senator Eastland recently declared segregation was not based on any sense of racial superiority. But as practiced it is often hard to disengage from manifestations of “white supremacy” which are not pretty even when as unconscious as the discrimination practice in the North.

Negroes have by no means been the only ones to employ economic weapons in the segregation struggle. Whites months ago began firing or denying credit to Negroes who signed petitions for desegregated schools. Whites have set in motion some of the most harmful rumor-bred boycotts of business firms accused – usually with no truth – of aiding the NAACP. Whites, indeed, appear to have suffered most, being also on the receiving end of boycotts by Negroes for supporting the White Citizens Councils.

It is clear that the economic weapons are dangerous ones, and southern leaders are deeply concerned by the harm they are doing. One remedy is to expose the false reports which start many of them. But a more fundamental answer is also being sought in steps to cultivate moderation and positive improvements in race relations. Leaders in Montgomery would be well advised to follow this course.

So far the Negroes there have had all the best of it – especially in national and world opinion. They have asked for a rule which obtains on busses in other southern cities like Memphis. This still aims at segregation, but with a first-come-first-serve rule. Whites are seated in front, Negroes in the back, but either race may overflow its own area if there are seats elsewhere. Whites at present are in the poor position of trying to compel Negroes to ride busses. Also to stand even though there may be empty seats. Moreover, some of the Negro leaders appear to understand that the spirit in which economic weapons are used is vital. They have emphasized calmness and nonviolence. Mr. King pleaded on one occasion, ‘We must use the weapon of love. We must have compassion and understanding for those who hate us,’ Economic power, if exercised in that spirit, will not be easily stopped.

Download the original PDF of this article here.

© 1956 The Christian Science Monitor. Reprinted with permission. Image retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newspapers produced by ProQuest CSA LLC.  All Rights Reserved.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to From our archives: ‘Desegregation: Economic Weapons’
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today