United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama; Browder vs. Gayle (1956)
This federal courthouse was the site of several landmark cases, including Gomillion v. Lightfoot in 1958 that found that electoral districts that were designed to reduce the potential influence of black voters violated the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Two years prior, the courthouse was home to Browder vs. Gayle, a pivotal case which led to the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts after the court ruled that bus segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court, a decision that provided African American plaintiffs with the legal power to challenge segregation in public transportation.
Backstory and Context
Rosa Parks had served as a field representative of the NAACP and risked her life organizing a variety of civil rights initiatives prior to moving to Montgomery. It is also significant to point out that she was not the first person to risk her safety and be arrested for challenging Montgomery's segregation laws. Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl who attended Booker T. Washington High, was one of at least two other black women who were arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in the months leading up to Rosa Parks arrest. Parks' activism is remembered owing to the way that the black community responded in the wake of her arrest, organizing a court challenge in addition to a city-wide boycott.
At that time, Montgomery's buses were divided into two sections; the front end of the bus was reserved for white citizens while the back end was for people of color. When the seats in the front of the bus filled, African American passengers were expected to give up their seats for any white passengers left without a seat. This is what caused the events which unfolded on that fateful day for young miss Colvin. The front section of the bus had become full and a white woman boarded the bus to find that there were no available seats. The bus driver told Colvin, along with three other girls, to move to allow the woman a place to sit. The other three, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Marie Louise Smith, all got up and moved to the back of the bus. Colvin, however, did not get up.
The bus driver gave her an ultimatum, stating that if she did not move, he would call the police. She remained seated, and the police came and arrested her for violating segregation laws. As she was handcuffed and forced from the bus, she screamed that the incident was a violation of her Constitutional rights.
Eleven months following that incident, and after other women were arrested including Parks, black plaintiffs filed a federal case with this US District Court. After about four months of deliberation, a decision was reached. The District Court ruled that the segregation laws were unconstitutional, and this decision was upheld when the case was sent before the United States Supreme Court the following December.
Southern Poverty Law Center. Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks. Teaching Tolerance. September 01, 2007. Accessed July 29, 2017. http://www.tolerance.org/article/browder-v-gayle-women-rosa-parks.
The Other Rosa Parks: Now 73, Claudette Colvin Was First to Refuse Giving Up Seat on Montgomery Bus. Democracy Now. March 29, 2013. Accessed July 29, 2017. https://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/29/the_other_rosa_parks_now_73.
Biography.com Editors. Claudette Colvin Biography.com. Biography.com Website. February 10, 2017. Accessed July 29, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378.