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In order to make civil rights a reality, more than the legal shift had to occur. Direct action was seen as a way of making an opening and pressuring the government to ensure that the laws on the books were changed and then enforced, providing the ultimate protections of Black citizenship. Among the most effective targets for direct action were public accommodations, and those spaces that received the earliest moments of civil rights agitation were public transportation. The “right to ride,” as framed by historian Blair L.M. Kelley, was critical for it allowed the vast majority of Black people to be able to navigate the cities and towns where they often worked, many times in white neighborhoods. The irony is that residential segregation provided the context for the need for desegregation of public transportation. Black people were forced into the backs of buses and trains, and in the cases of interstate travel, they were relegated to the Jim Crow car. It was a source of both shame and denigration and deeply inconvenient, if not absurd.
While the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott is an important case study of these issues, with the indigenous leadership, the national attention, and the eventual Supreme Court case as key nodes, there is a long history of public transportation direct action work as well as boycotts that preceded it and set the stage. An influential one was the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott of 1953. Much of this work can be traced to the 1940s, with institutions like the Highlander school, providing training to those would eventually take up the struggle. It was at Highlander where Rosa Parks, the heroine of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was trained. Even in cities like Montgomery, there were previous attempts to raise this question and what it demonstrated was that people were thinking about these questions and seeking solutions long before the national attention of the late 1950s. Out of these moments, Black churches, became the base for
many of civil rights activity throughout the south, ministers like Martin Luther King, Jr. were then thrust into the leadership positions that they were known for during the period. But without the spark of ordinary people, they would not have had anyone to lead. With the Freedom Rides, young activists began to take center stage on these questions, by the 1960s, they would be firmly ensconced in the movement.
===Young Activists and Civil Rights===