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   Vol. 69/No. 46           November 28, 2005  
E.D. Nixon: organizer of Montgomery bus boycott
The following are major excerpts from an article published in the Dec. 20, 1965, Militant under the headline, “Montgomery Bus Boycott Anniversary: E.D. Nixon Honored at Dinner.”
NEW YORK—E.D. Nixon, organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott, was guest of honor here Dec. 11 at a dinner celebrating the tenth anniversary of that historic civil rights struggle. It was sponsored by the Militant Labor Forum.

In addition to Mr. Nixon, the gathering heard Clifton DeBerry, 1964 presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, and Fred Halstead, staff writer for the Militant. Farrell Dobbs, National Secretary of the SWP, was toastmaster. All three had met E.D. Nixon in Montgomery during the bus boycott.

Messages were received from friends and co-workers of E.D. Nixon, including one from rights fighters Carl and Anne Braden….

Mrs. Prathia Wynn, staff member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, attended as a representative of that organization. Outstanding entertainment was provided by Bill Fredericks, a young folk singer, and E.D. Nixon Jr., a professional singer and actor.

Fredericks sang a song he composed about the civil rights struggle based on the cry heard during the Watts outbreak, “Burn, Baby, Burn.” E.D. Nixon Jr., who recently appeared in the hit production “The Blacks” and is in the Sammy Davis movie now in production, “A Man Called Adam,” sang songs about the freedom movement.

The gathering gave a rousing ovation to Mrs. E.D. Nixon. In his speech, E. D. Nixon said of her: “She stood behind me year after year and has done a tremendous job.” When their home was bombed during the boycott, he said, her response was: “We’re not going to let that scare us. We can’t quit.” He recalled that on an earlier occasion when his life was threatened by racists and he suggested she go out of town, she replied: “I’m not going anywhere, I don’t believe they’re coming, but they may. I’d rather be the widow of a man that had the courage to fight than be the wife of a coward.”

Farrell Dobbs paid tribute to E.D. Nixon as “a pioneer leader in the freedom struggle in the South.”

He told the audience: “This weekend in Montgomery, the tenth anniversary of the boycott is being celebrated. But unfortunately Mr. Nixon was not included in the program. We of the Militant Labor Forum felt that he should be included, that he before all others should be recognized as the pioneer, the founding leader, the Initiator, the spark plug and principal man of the hour in the battle.”

Dobbs also informed the gathering that both the Montgomery morning Advertiser and evening Journal had reported that the Militant Labor Forum would pay tribute to Mr. Nixon.

Dobbs then read the biographical data on E.D. Nixon in the Who’s Who in the South and Southwest. It described him as “a civic leader and Pullman porter.” He was president of the Montgomery division of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters since 1938. With a marvelous piece of understatement, the book describes how he “secured a revision of the physical arrangements of the railroad station ticket office.”

It adds that he organized the Montgomery Voters League and was instrumental in getting Negroes registered to vote. He was president of the Montgomery NAACP from 1947 to 1951 and president of its state organization until 1952. He was, in 1954, the first Negro to run for public office in Montgomery. He has been a member of the board of directors of the Southern Conference Educational Fund since 1952. And, the report states, he “organized Montgomery Improvement Association in 1955 to protest treatment of Negroes on city buses.”

Fred Halstead described how he had gone to Montgomery in March 1956 to do a story on the boycott movement that had begun Dec. 5, 1955….

On his arrival in Montgomery Halstead found the Negro community close mouthed with an unknown Northern white. He finally found a local white man who could open the doors for him. It was novelist Alfred Maund, then on the staff of the late Aubrey William’s publication, the Southern Farmer, which was published in Montgomery.  
The Originator
After discussion, Maund said, “I’ll take you to the man who started the whole thing,” and took him to the home of E. D. Nixon for an interview.

Halstead quoted from the Black Worker, voice of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, on the occasion of Nixon’s retirement last year. The paper wrote:

“It must be said that the Rev. Martin Luther King may never have been given the Nobel Peace Award if it were not for the fact that Brother Nixon induced Rev. King to take the leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which ultimately was successful in abolishing discrimination in bus transportation.”

Clifton DeBerry gave an excellent summary of the principal achievements of the boycott movement….

The high point of the evening was the speech by E.D. Nixon. A sturdy, stern looking man, his face relaxes as he indulges in his liking for a joke or humorous side remark. His simply worded speech warmed the hearts of the old timers present and was particularly inspiring to the young people. Many of them were hearing for the first time the kind of an authentic spokesman who emerges from the ranks of a working class movement.

Emphasizing that the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was organized to lead the boycott movement, was the outgrowth of many previous struggles in the city, he described the organizations he had participated in and led prior to the MIA.

“So you see,” he commented, “the Montgomery Improvement Association was not started just because someone came to town or someone felt it was the proper thing to do at this time. It was started because there had been a struggle of people for long years.”

He told how Rosa Parks had been the third person to be arrested for defying bus Jim Crow but he felt she was the first one who could be relied on for a test case. She had been his secretary in the NAACP and other organizations, he recalled, over a period of 12 years.

Describing how he organized the meeting to establish the protest movement, he said: “The first person I called was the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. He said, ‘I believe you have the right idea. I’ll go along.’”

The second person he called was Rev. H.H. Hubbard who said, “Yes, I’ll go along with it.”

“The third person I called,” he continued, “was the Rev. M.L. King and he said to me, ‘Well Nixon, I don’t know. Let me think about it for a while.’ So, to make a long story short, I called 15 other people, and I gave Rev. King time to pray over it or whatever he wanted to do. And I called him back and he was number 18 on my list and he agreed to go along with us.”

On Dec. 5 Rosa Parks was convicted and fined $10. At that point, Nixon declared, “50,000 Negroes rose up and grabbed the ‘Cradle of the Confederacy’ and began to rock it!”

But on the very day of the first mass meeting many of the ministers were still reluctant to make the fight. “I almost lost patience with them,” Nixon said. “I told them what I thought about them and told them ‘Unless you accept this program this evening, there’ll be more than 1,000 people at the church tonight. I’ll take the microphone and tell the people that we don’t have a program because you all are too cowardly to stand on your feet and fight.’ So then they all decided to go along.”

More than 4,500 people turned out for the mass meeting. The MIA was established. A car pool was organized that provided transportation for the entire Negro community for a full year while the boycott held fast despite bombings of Nixon’s and King’s homes and wholesale arrests of boycott leaders.

Nixon described the impressive support the boycott movement won throughout the country. While he was treasurer of the MIA during the boycott period, he said, he accounted for income and expenditures of $415,000, all of it contributions from organizations and individuals.  
‘Many People Came’
“Many people came to Montgomery,” he said. “People came from here—that was where I happened to meet the master of ceremonies here [Dobbs.] He came to my house and we had a long talk. We had station wagons and automobiles that were given to us. And the number one station wagon came from the master of ceremonies here tonight in the name of his organization.”

Nixon continued: “The tenth anniversary of the Montgomery Improvement Association is also being celebrated in my home town. It is being celebrated by people who I spent more than 25 years trying to service prior to the MIA.

“But as you know,” he continued, “in every organization there are people who get carried away by big words. There are sometimes people who get carried away by how the words are said. But I would say to you that there are two things that are important in dealing with organizations. One of them is not how much you say but how much you do. The other thing is not just to say things but to tell the truth about the things you deal with. And that’s what I have tried to contribute to the Montgomery Improvement Association and to any other organization I have dealt with.

“Consequently,” he added, “in doing that I sometimes have to stand by myself. But if telling the truth makes me stand alone, then I’m a lone stander throughout my life.”

Pointing to the surge of the Southern movement, he concluded: “I once told a tale about a young man who had a basket full of puppies. He was going down the street trying to sell them and he stopped at a lady’s house and asked her, ‘Madam, would you like to have a puppy?’ She asked, ‘How much are they?’ ‘Twenty-five cents.’ She looked at them and said, ‘They beautiful, but no. I reckon not.’

“So he went home and the next morning the woman called and said, ‘Son, have you got any more of those puppies?’ ‘Yes, mmm.’ She said, ‘How much did you say they are?’ ‘Fifty cents.’ She said, ‘Why are they 50 cents today when yesterday you said they were a quarter?’ He said, ‘Their eyes are open.’

“So the gist of the story is the Negro in the South will not be sold for a quarter anymore. His eyes are open.”
Related articles:
Rosa Parks: a working-class militant  
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