Social movements and social-change litigation: Synergy in the montgomery bus protest

Christopher Coleman*, Laurence D. Nee, Leonard S Rubinowitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Two competing schools of thought have emerged to explain how the Montgomery bus protest of 1955-56 brought about changes on the city's Jim Crow buses. The dominant explanation attributes the changes to the bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery Improvement Association. A second interpretation emphasizes the critical role of the Supreme Court's decision striking down the state and local bus segregation laws. This essay provides a third explanation: that these two strategies - the boycott and the litigation - interacted, each shaping and reinforcing the other. Each strategy was a critical part of the struggle, but neither brought change by itself. This essay argues that the two strategies of the Montgomery protest created a synergy that was the key to bringing about changes on the buses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-737
Number of pages75
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Law


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