Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

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Background Reading on Segregated Buses

This short reading can help students and teachers understand the experience of riding segregated public transportation.

For many ordinary black citizens, some of their most painful and consistently humiliating encounters with white power and injustice took place in public, especially on city buses. In the mid-fifties the automobile had not yet become the ubiquitous presence that it is now, especially not for the thousands of black people in Montgomery who earned their living as maids, cooks, janitors, porters, and the like. High school and college students were also part of the seventeen thousand or so black people who made up some seventy-five percent of the passengers on the segregated buses. During their daily rides, blacks were relegated to the often crowded back area and were forbidden to take vacant seats in the forward white section, even if no white passengers were present. Beyond this were the all-too-common encounters with rude and hostile white bus drivers (there were no black ones) who often called their black passengers “apes,” “niggers,” “black cows,” and other demeaning names. Often they demanded that blacks get up and surrender their seats to white passengers when the white section was full. Black passengers were also required to pay their fare in front and then get off to re-board through the rear door.

Source | Vincent Harding, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Earl Lewis, “We Changed the World, 1945-1970,” in To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans, Kelley and Lewis, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 458-459.
Creator | Vincent Harding, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Earl Lewis
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | Vincent Harding, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Earl Lewis, “Background Reading on Segregated Buses,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 28, 2020,

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