The Montgomery Bus Boycotts of 1956 were a pivotal moment in the early civil rights movement. First, they illustrated the potential of nonviolent protest in bringing about change. The boycotts cost the city of Montgomery a great deal of money, and attracted negative national attention to the city. In the context of the international Cold War, the nation paid attention to any city that made the US look less democratic and free. The strategy of civil disobedience, marked by mass action and well-organized protests, would be repeated in various forms throughout the Jim Crow South. The "sit-ins," such as the ones in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960, took the same approach, with similar results.
The boycotts had another major consequence that shaped the civil rights movement to come. One of its leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, emerged as a national leader and public face of the movement. The young minister, whose congregation was at the center of organizing the boycotts, received national attention from the media. King also became the target of violence by white supremacists: his home was bombed by Klan members at the height of the boycotts.
In the case of Montgomery, the courts played a direct role in striking down segregation laws. A federal court ruled in the midst of the protests that the city ordinances segregating buses were unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the lower court's ruling brought the boycotts to an end. Some protests—that in Greensboro, for example—did not require a court decision to come to an end. The strategies of nonviolent direct action put so much pressure on city leaders that they were forced to compromise. In many other cases, though, action by the federal judiciary or even the executive branch was necessary to bring about legal integration.