Posts filed under ‘Politics’

A Transportation Lawyer Looks at Dr. Rev. King, Jr.

Embedded within in our federal Constitution is the concept of a “right to travel,” for one is not truly free and independent from tyranny unless one can leave, move about, or choose to stay put.  The right exists against both public and private restrictions.  Not surprisingly, transportation is often the focus of, and means to, greater societal change.

Martin Luther King’s rise to the national stage of the civil rights movement came about after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the middle of the bus on the evening of Dec. 1, 1955.   She was ordered by the driver to take a seat at the back of the bus, when white riders boarded and needed seats.  (The law in effect at the time divided the bus down the middle, with whites in front and blacks in the back.  However, the line moved back if more whites boarded, and more seats were needed.)  By refusing to give up her initial seat in the middle, Mrs. Parks violated the segregation laws governing the City of Montgomery’s bus system at that time.

She was convicted of the offense a few days later, however, the lawyers advising the NAACP, including Thurgood Marshall, felt that the state court process would mire an appeal.  Her arrest had already ignited local outrage.  At the same time, Montgomery’s African-American community came together under Dr. King’s leadership and that of other local clergy, including Rev. E. D. Nixon, who headed the local NAACP chapter, to form the Montgomery Improvement Association.  This occurred at a mass protest held at the Holt Street Baptist Church on Dec. 5, 1955.  Dr. King was a young minister in the City at that time, and Rev. Nixon felt that a fresh voice was needed to deal with the City fathers.

The African-Americans’ protest group had a list of demands for the transportation system—that the bus system (which was privately owned and operated) should hire black drivers, that seating should be on first come, first serve basis, and that drivers treat all customers courteously.

Till the group saw progress on these demands, it and its supporters agreed to boycott the City’s bus system.  The boycott lased a year.  Riders found alternative means of transportation—walking, carpooling, taking cabs, bicycling and even using mules to get to their jobs— anything but taking the bus.  The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians and cyclists.  Meanwhile, the protesters filed a federal court lawsuit against the mayor, under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and 1983, the civil rights laws, charging that the segregated system was unconstitutional.

The boycott crippled Montgomery’s bus system, which could not exist on white riders’ fares alone.  The City responded with its own version of economic protectionism to get them back on the bus. The City threatened to fine black cab drivers who charged just 10¢ to passengers, the same as the bus fare (instead of the usual 45¢).  The City arrested blacks for “hindering” a bus.  The City urged insurance companies to drop insurance of the owners of cars used as carpools, and got an injunction against the carpools’ operation.  Lloyds of London re-insured them.  The City even threatened an antitrust-type lawsuit against the organizers of the “illegal” boycott.  Dr. King was arrested, and his house fire-bombed.

On June 4, 1956, the federal district court ruled that Montgomery’s enforcement of the state’s segregation law pursuant to its Public Service Commission rules for buses was unconstitutional, in Browder v Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (1956).  The ruling was affirmed, and later, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the civil rights ruling to stand.  Dr. King, Rev. Nixon, the NAACP and the supporters of the boycott got more than they requested— full integration of the city’s buses.  Dr. King’s speech to 2,500 supporters at the church on the evening of December 20, 1956 may be read at

The next day, at 6 am, Dr. King and others peacefully boarded an integrated bus, and the boycott was ended. The Montgomery Advertiser reported: “The calm but cautious acceptance of this significant change in Montgomery’s way of life came without any major disturbances.”

In 1957, Dr. King became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and in 1958, he wrote a self-reflective book detailing the experience, and lessons learned, titled Stride Toward Freedom.  It’s a great book, I highly recommend it.  The protesters’ successful bus boycott gave the civil rights movement one of its first very tangible victories, from which others followed, based on the non-violent techniques and ethics preached by King, following in Ghandi’s footsteps.

In 1964, the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize.  When Gunnar Jahn made his presentation speech at the Swedish Academy, awarding to Dr. King the Nobel Peace Prize, it was the bus boycott that he described, in the context of the Ghandian methods of non-violent economic measures which Dr. King successfully employed there.  Dr. King was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, at age 35.


January 17, 2011 at 8:54 AM 1 comment

River Greenway Ribbon Cut in South Orange

I’m pleased to say this river greenway and bike path construction project for South Orange was delivered on time and on-budget. One year and one day from groundbreaking to ribbon cut.

Continue Reading August 5, 2010 at 10:48 AM Leave a comment

Lautenberg Introduces National Rail Freight Policy Bill

Anything we can do to get more goods moving more efficiently by rail, rather than diesel-fueled, polluting trucks, which cause so much wear and tear on our interstate highways and local roads, sounds terrific! Sen. Lautenberg is the chair of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, and he introduced a bill in Congress to do just that and more (reduce carbon dioxide emission by 40% by 2030) on Thursday, July 22. More insights in the full blog post.

Continue Reading July 25, 2010 at 3:19 PM Leave a comment

Tax Thoughts on Independence Day

On Independence Day, 2010, it’s appropriate to consider whether the local tax 2% “cap” law, about to be enacted in New Jersey, will free us from the tyranny of ever-increasing local taxes, whether there were any good alternatives, and whether it will work.

Continue Reading July 4, 2010 at 9:33 PM Leave a comment

BP’s Oil Spill Damages: What Exxon Valdez Wrought

No one knows what the final amount of damages, fines and penalties might be for the BP oil spill—too many unknowns—but some commentators are tossing around $40 billion, all told. That’s a lot of money, even for BP. Some are asking, “Does it have the assets to survive?” Lawsuits are already being filed, and Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a criminal investigation.

Continue Reading June 12, 2010 at 5:00 PM Leave a comment

Trees Cut Along Rahway River in South Orange

The Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over the nation’s rivers, and flooding, ordered South Orange Village to cut down the trees that had grown up along the Rahway River’s embankment on Clark Street. Without questioning the order, the Village’s DPW employees took a buzz saw to the trees last Tuesday, and it looks just awful.

Continue Reading June 6, 2010 at 3:31 PM 2 comments

Progress at the PA NYNJ

The Port Authority’s Bill Baroni today unveiled a long-hoped for unified fare card (actually a “PayPass” Mastercard (debit or credit)) good on PATH trains, NJTransit trains and MTA subways. No more juggling different fare cards for bi-state commuters!

Continue Reading June 2, 2010 at 11:00 PM Leave a comment

Public Transportation Preservation Act Introduced

I’m hopeful the Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010 bill will pass and become law. It’s sadly ironic, though, to reflect on why our federal senators’ (Lautenberg, Menendez, Gillibrand, Schumer, Dodd, others) had to introduce the $2 billion bill to aid transit, to prevent more service cuts and fare hikes.

Continue Reading June 2, 2010 at 12:14 AM Leave a comment


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