Any 1950’s story set in Alabama had to include the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When Rosa Parks refused to move on that day in early December 1955, it began an organized protest to correct a long-time injustice. It was a time of great social change, but also of fear for Black Americans. The demonstration orchestrated by leaders in the black community focused on peaceful resistance through non-confrontational policies. However, it was not always met with the same restraint.
During the over-year-long protest, violence was often used to try to force compliance with the Jim Crow rules of segregation. In January of 1956, bombings at the homes of the black leaders fueled fear. Stories of people being physically forced onto buses, arrested for standing on street corners or just driving a car caused many to be afraid. Coupled with the tactics of law enforcement were the erroneous reports in the news media.
In February of 1956 the local paper reported the arrest of 115 boycott leaders, when the actual number was significantly less. The intent of the false reports was to intimidate the black community. It was reported that the FBI was compiling a list of “Negro agitators,” indicating anyone participating deserved whatever action was coming. In March of 1956 an article reported “Negro thugs” were patrolling and threatening Montgomery, causing fear among the white citizens. As a result, law enforcement stepped up attacks, claiming they were simply dealing with these reported thugs. Many stories were circulated to defend the actions of civil authorities, instill fear in the black community, and to end the boycott.
In Silent Ties Sheriff Hosper tries to keep his community isolated from the outside world. However, we witness the far reaching effect of the boycott through the fear it generated in both Addie’s extended family that came to escape the dangers and through Melanie’s reaction to their presence. Additional reading about the media reports, both true and false, can be found in Reporting Civil Rights, Part One: American Journalism 1941-1963.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana