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Decades After the Montgomery Bus Boycott: What Would Jesus Have Done?
Scholars And Activists Gather In Montgomery To Ponder The Role Of Churches In Backing Or Opposing The Boycott

September 4, 2002-- On a cold, rainy morning in December 1955 thousands of African-Americans, who always had ridden to their jobs in the back of the Montgomery city buses, walked to work. That was the beginning of the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, the inauguration of the American civil rights movement and the beginning of the end of Jim Crow laws in Alabama and throughout the South.

The Montgomery bus boycott became a milestone in African-Americans’ journey toward civil rights in the 20th century and a case study in effective, nonviolent action. “The Montgomery story is rich in contemporary significance for social action and the contributions of religious communities to social healing in America,” said Charles Marsh, associate professor of religious studies and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia.

“Not only in Dr. King’s mind, but also in the minds of black church people in Montgomery, the movement was not simply about political goals but also about spiritual goals, about envisioning a new society, new social possibilities for blacks and whites living together in America,” Marsh said.

Forty-seven years after the path-breaking protest, an interdisciplinary group of scholars will gather Sept. 6-8 in Montgomery, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became involved in the civil rights struggle while serving as pastor.

The three-day meeting of the Virginia Workgroup on Religion and Power will examine religious influences on the Montgomery bus boycott and the role of congregations in supporting, or opposing, the bus boycott.

At a mass meeting near the end of the boycott year in 1956, King summed up the achievements of the year as a Supreme Court victory on desegregation came into sight, Marsh said. King reminded the congregation that the boycott was not the goal; the boycott was merely the means. The end, the goal was: “redemption, reconciliation, and the creation of a beloved community.”

The purpose of the Montgomery meeting, sponsored by the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, is to seek to understand more clearly, by talking to participants in the boycott, other activists, historians and sociologists, what King meant by “beloved community” and how to reclaim it in 2002, Marsh said.

Among the expected participants will be the Rev. Richard Wills, a graduate student in religious studies at U.Va. and former pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, along with sociologists, historians, theologians and activists from throughout the Southeast, gathering for the third of four scheduled workgroup meetings this year.

Also scheduled to participate in the Montgomery session will be Fred Gray, the attorney for the Montgomery Improvement Association; Ralph Luker, historian and co-editor of the recently published papers of Martin Luther King Jr.; Johnny Carr, a grade-school friend of Rosa Parks and former president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which led the desegregation of the Montgomery public schools; and Rev. Baxter Morris, pastor of First Baptist Church (civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy's former pulpit).


For more information on the workshop, call Charles Marsh at (434) 924-6839, or contact him by email at For background information on the Project on Lived Theology, visit the web site at

The Virginia Workgroup on Religion and Power papers presented at the Montgomery workshop will be posted on the Project on Lived Theology web site in October.

Media contact: Charlotte Crystal, (434) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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