Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Be Quiet but Friendly; Proud, but not Arrogant; Joyous, but not Boistrous"

Via Slate magazine comes this revealing document, signed by Martin Luther King, Jr., exhibiting a brave and, in the very best tradition of America's civil religion, both a deeply liberal and a deeply Christian attitude in the wake of their victory in the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott:

Integrated Bus Suggestions

This is a historic week because segregation on buses now been declared unconstitutional. Within a few days the Supreme Court Mandate will reach Montgomery and you will be re-boarding integrated buses. This places upon us all a tremendous responsibility of maintaining, in face of what could be some unpleasantness, a calm and loving dignity befitting good citizens and members of our Race. If there is violence in word or deed it must not be our people who commit it.

For your help and convenience the following suggestions are made. Will you read, study and memorize them so that our non-violent determination may not be endangered. First, some general suggestions:

1. Not all white people are opposed to integrated buses. Accept goodwill on the part of many.
2. The whole bus is now for the use of all people. Take a vacant seat.
3. Pray for guidance and commit yourself to complete non-violence in word and action as you enter the bus.
4. Demonstrate the calm dignity of our Montgomery people in your actions.
5. In all things observe ordinary rules of courtesy and good behavior.
6. Remember that this is not a victory for Negroes alone, but for all Montgomery and the South. Do not boast! Do not brag!
7. Be quiet but friendly; proud, but not arrogant; joyous, but not boistrous.
8. Be loving enough to absorb evil and understanding enough to turn an enemy into a friend.


1. The bus driver is in charge of the bus and has been instructed to obey the law. Assume that he will cooperate in helping you occupy any vacant seat.
2. Do not deliberately sit by a white person, unless there is no other seat.
3. In sitting down by a person, white or colored, say "May I" or "Pardon me" as you sit. This is a common courtesy.
4. If cursed, do not curse back. If pushed, do not push back. If struck, do not strike back, but evidence love and goodwill at all times.
5. In case of an incident, talk as little as possible, and always in a quiet tone. Do not get up from your seat! Report all serious incidents to the bus driver.
6. For the first few days try to get on the bus with a friend in whose non-violence you have confidence. You can uphold one another by a glance or a prayer.
7. If another person is being molested, do not arise to go to his defense, but pray for the oppressor and use moral and spiritual force to carry on the struggle for justice.
8. According to your own ability and personality, do not be afraid to experiment with new and creative techniques for achieving reconciliation and social change.
9. If you feel you cannot take it, walk for another week or two. We have confidence in our people. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.


It must be said that, by most measures, this act of faith and confidence in the ultimate goodwill of the white population of Montgomery failed. Soon to come were bombings and lynchings; city leaders doubled down on segregation in other areas of public life, at one point even making it illegal for blacks and whites to congregate together for any non-work-related purposes whatsoever. Rosa Parks herself eventually left Montgomery, facing death threats and having been blacklisted by potential employers. Soon, the African-American population of the city were back to mostly riding at the back of buses. Legal victories, as always, are insufficient without social transformations. But this was a legal victory which made possible the beginnings of a real change in the public space of Montgomery, Alabama, ratifying a direct action taken by thousands of brave, civic-minded people, and as such set a precedent which made our nation a better one, in time. All praise to their good intentions, and their self-sacrificing acts.

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