The bus boycott and occupational licensing


Author: Timothy Sandefur

Martin Luther King’s famous Montgomery bus boycott is a milestone in the history of civil rights. What many people don’t know is that it also provides an important lesson in the way that occupational licensing laws limit our freedom.

For King’s bus boycott to succeed, he and his followers were forced to provide an alternative transportation network to get people who normally rode buses to work. The solution they hit upon was a ride-sharing scheme organized through the churches. People with cars volunteered to drive carpools of people to their destinations every morning, and then on Sundays, the churches would collect donations to pay for car maintenance (particularly tires). This was a very large undertaking, because so many people were needing so many rides every day.

City officials therefore responded by seeking an injunction to shut down the whole network as an unlicensed taxi-cab operation. Officials in Baton Rouge had strangled a bus boycott in this way only a couple years earlier. And it worked in Montgomery, too! It was only King’s good fortune that the court shut down the transportation network on the same day that segregation on the bus lines was held unconstitutional. Thus the boycott succeeded in the nick of time.

Nevertheless, for the final months of the boycott, participants were forced to walk to their destinations because their alternative rides had been declared illegal.

I tell this story in my article, "Can You Get There from Here? How The Law Still Threatens King’s Dream," which you can read online here.