Montgomery man reflects on family's integral role in bus boycott

Montgomery man reflects on family's integral role in bus boycott
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Lloyd Howard had a front row seat to history, growing up as a fearless 14-year-old in the segregated south, working at his father's taxi stand in downtown Montgomery.

"Mr. Raymond Parks was working in the shop with us," Howard explained. "Mrs. Rosa Parks worked right across the street at the Montgomery Fair. It was a given."

No one knew where the boycott would lead, or the impact it would have on their jobs and safety, but Howard vividly remembers the night he knew, even as a teen, he was a part of something special.

"If you were in that mass meeting, you would realize they had selected the right person. Cause he came with a message and a powerful message," Howard said.

The mass meeting was at Holt Street Baptist Church, following a successful one-day boycott of the city's bus line. The crowd was spilling out of every door. Dr. Martin Luther King was selected to be president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and organize the movement.

"People were on their feet most of the time. They realized he was the kind of person that could lead us through this difficult period that we knew was coming", Howard explained.

Howard's father helped transport people to their jobs with his cab business and churches purchased cars to keep the movement going.

"It was just too expensive to keep the buses running," Howard described the business during the boycott. "Once people decided they were going to walk, they stayed that way. They walked from one side of town to the other. They walked to their jobs."

The boycott cost some activists their jobs and even their lives.

"Signs went up that said 'fire your n*****' and that came right out of the city," Howard said. "You can't feed your family. You had professional people who wouldn't get involved because they could be fired, and you can't get another job because you were labeled a troublemaker."

Howard said he was never afraid; his father never backed down on their involvement in the movement and never instilled fear in his sons.  Still, the reality of standing up for equality was not lost on Howard.

"We knew what it was going to take, and we knew it was a possibility that one of us getting hurt or possibly getting killed," Howard said. "It killed two of our cab drivers. One was killed right in front of the cab stand. You would be trained on how to take a beating and blows and all that was just part of it."

It was in the moments of ultimate grief Howard knew he had to press on, losing this fight was not an option.

"Once we were unified, there was so many other things that happened. Once the decision came that the buses could be integrated, we started talking about jobs. Bus driver jobs, jobs with all forms of transportation. Then we started talking about jobs at the police department," Howard said.

As President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Howard says it's his mission to identify new leaders to pass the torch and renew the pledge of non-violence to the city's bullet-stricken neighborhoods.

"You don't have the Martin Luther King kind of leadership," Howard said of today's youth. "I know some of the violence and the community disturbance we have just wouldn't exist, and this is the time to reset the clock. We've got huge communities just coming apart from young people not respecting each other, they don't respect adults. You can't say anything to them. They are in the African-American survival mode that's very destructive."

Copyright 2015 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.