In the film The Long Walk Home with cast members Sissy Spacek and Whoopie Goldberg: What methods were used to organize this community, and why were these methods successful?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Long Walk Home is a Hollywood depiction of events surrounding the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. It personalizes the historical setting with the struggles of an African-American woman who is the maid (Whoopi Goldberg) of a well-to-do city official and the inner conflicts of his wife (Sissy Spacek) who becomes sympathetic to the cause that her maid supports. While the film focuses on the moral issues connected to this historical event, the factual events are certainly more accurate than in many Hollywood movies.

  • Organization

After the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, under the leadership of E.D. Nixon, president of the local NAACP chapter and a member of an effective union that had been formed by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a boycott of the Montgomery city buses was organized in order to effect the end of segregation on these buses. An association was formed, named the Montgomery Improvement Association and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was new to Montgomery. Having come from Georgia, he would not have felt any pressure yet from city officials as, perhaps, residents of Montgomery may have. King put pressure on black ministers to join in and flyers then were distributed throughout the black community urging them to stay out of work one day or find another way to work other than taking public transportation. A majority complied and walked to work or stayed out. Those who drove cars set up a taxi service to transport people to work.

  • Success of Methods

Since the African-American citizens of Montgomery made up a large percentage of those who daily rode the buses, this boycott was effective for the simple reason that it cost the city substantial revenue. In the film, as was historically true, when the maid is unable to be at work on time, or simply cannot come, households such as that of prominent people in the community who did a great deal of entertaining were greatly inconvenienced. This disruption of the organization of social and even political engagements caused white women to find themselves faced with the domestic problem of maintaining their homes as they were, as well as feeling sympathy for their valued household help. Therefore, in order to keep their household and social calendar operative, they drove to the black community and picked up their servants. And, as in the film, often when they realized the conditions under which these servants lived and worked, their sympathies grew. In addition, some donated money to this cause.

Of course, after this boycott began there was civil unrest and Dr. King and others were arrested and charged with conspiring to interfere with a business, a violation of a 1921 law. This action, however, backfired on Montgomery's officials because it then drew national attention to the boycott.

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