Montgomery Improvement Association

Montgomery Improvement Association, group formed by African American leaders in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 to organize and sponsor the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In 1955, following the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, black leaders in Montgomery formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to sustain a bus boycott. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was organized by the Women's Political Council as a one-day protest, but the MIA, and its leader Martin Luther King Jr., rallied African American support in the city to keep the boycott going for almost a year. The boycott gained national attention for the Civil Rights Movement and helped create the favorable political climate in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against desegregated seating on public buses in 1956.

On December 5, 1955, as blacks in Montgomery stayed off the buses for a day, Rosa Parks was convicted of violating Montgomery's segregation laws. A group of Montgomery's black leaders met that afternoon and formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), electing Martin Luther King Jr., the new pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as the organization's president. Their evening rally at the Holt Street Baptist Church drew over 5,000 people, and King inspired the audience to continue the boycott. Several other activists played key roles in the MIA boycott, including labor activist E. D. Nixon, the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, and the Rev. Robert Graetz, the only white member.

While the Montgomery Improvement Association attempted to negotiate modest changes in the segregated seating policies of public buses, black workers took taxis, carpooled and walked to and from work. MIA member Rufus Lewis organized a carpool, finding Montgomery residents who were willing to lend their cars (mostly whites), and drivers who could take the protesters to and from work. Later, the Rev. B. J. Simms ran the carpool. African Americans donated portions of their meager earnings to keep the organization running.

On February 1, Fred Gray, the Association's attorney, filed a petition in federal court to declare segregated seating unconstitutional. This led in November 1956, to the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated seating on public buses.

The Association went on to become one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Although the MIA lost momentum after King moved to Atlanta in 1960, the group continued its civil rights efforts in Montgomery, including a voter-registration drive, and a failed attempt to integrate the city's parks. In 1962, the MIA achieved one of its early goals when the Montgomery bus company finally hired black drivers. Under the leadership of longtime president Johnnie Carr, the MIA has also worked for the integration of local schools.

 

Contributed By:
Marian Aguiar