Social Movement Case Study with Assignments: The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Published: Jan 8, 2021
Contributor: Peter Levine

License: CC BY NC SA 4.0 license – Allows revisions and additions but forbids commercial use.

What objectives, targets, strategies, demands, and rhetoric should a nascent social movement choose as it confronts an entrenched system of white supremacy? How should it make decisions?

The Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott of 1955–1956 is a classic example of a social movement episode that accomplished its immediate goals despite severe obstacles. It catapulted the 26-year-old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into international prominence and launched similar episodes in many American cities across the South and then also the North. By investigating their situation and choices, you can develop skills and insights to use as activists today.

By the end of this case study, you should be able to:

Understand the differences among goals, targets, strategies, demands, and rhetoric.
Understand how the organizational structures of social movements are formed and how they evolve.
Understand the range of choices that confronted the actual movement in 1955, and the pros and cons of each choice.
Be able to reason with others about which choices to make.

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