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Edgar Nixon

Edgar Nixon

Overview
Edgar Daniel Nixon was an African American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

 leader and union organizer who played a crucial role in organizing the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott
Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign that started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, intended to oppose the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. Many important figures in the civil rights movement were involved in the boycott,...

 in Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery is the capital of the U.S. state of Alabama, and is the county seat of Montgomery County. It is located on the Alabama River southeast of the center of the state, in the Gulf Coastal Plain. As of the 2010 census, Montgomery had a population of 205,764 making it the second-largest city...

. Nixon also led the Montgomery branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was, in 1925, the first labor organization led by blacks to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor . It merged in 1978 with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks , now known as the Transportation Communications International Union.The...

 union, known as the Pullman Porters Union. Nixon also served as president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, usually abbreviated as NAACP, is an African-American civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909. Its mission is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to...

 (NAACP), the Montgomery Welfare League, and the Montgomery Voters League.

Nixon was born on July 12, 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery is the capital of the U.S. state of Alabama, and is the county seat of Montgomery County. It is located on the Alabama River southeast of the center of the state, in the Gulf Coastal Plain. As of the 2010 census, Montgomery had a population of 205,764 making it the second-largest city...

.
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Encyclopedia
Edgar Daniel Nixon was an African American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

 leader and union organizer who played a crucial role in organizing the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott
Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign that started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, intended to oppose the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. Many important figures in the civil rights movement were involved in the boycott,...

 in Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery is the capital of the U.S. state of Alabama, and is the county seat of Montgomery County. It is located on the Alabama River southeast of the center of the state, in the Gulf Coastal Plain. As of the 2010 census, Montgomery had a population of 205,764 making it the second-largest city...

. Nixon also led the Montgomery branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was, in 1925, the first labor organization led by blacks to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor . It merged in 1978 with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks , now known as the Transportation Communications International Union.The...

 union, known as the Pullman Porters Union. Nixon also served as president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, usually abbreviated as NAACP, is an African-American civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909. Its mission is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to...

 (NAACP), the Montgomery Welfare League, and the Montgomery Voters League.

Early activism


Nixon was born on July 12, 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery is the capital of the U.S. state of Alabama, and is the county seat of Montgomery County. It is located on the Alabama River southeast of the center of the state, in the Gulf Coastal Plain. As of the 2010 census, Montgomery had a population of 205,764 making it the second-largest city...

. As a child, Nixon received about one year of formal education. After working in a train station baggage room, he finally became a Pullman car porter. Years before the bus boycott, Nixon had started campaigning for voting rights and civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

 for African-Americans in Montgomery. He served as an unelected advocate for the African-American community, helping individuals deal with uncooperative white office holders, policemen, and civil servants. In 1940, Nixon organized 750 African-American men to march to the Montgomery County courthouse and attempt to register to vote. In 1954, he ran for a seat on the county Democratic Executive Committee. The next year, he questioned the Democratic candidates to the Montgomery City Commission on their positions on civil rights issues.

Finding a plaintiff


In the early 1950s, Nixon and Jo Ann Robinson
Jo Ann Robinson
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson was a civil rights activist and educator in Montgomery, Alabama. Born near Culloden, Georgia, she was the youngest of twelve children. She attended Fort Valley State College and then became a public school teacher in Macon, where she was married to Wilbur Robinson for a...

, president of the Women's Political Council
Women's Political Council
The Women's Political Council, founded in Montgomery, Alabama, was an organization that was part of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.. Members included Mary Fair Burks, Jo Ann Robinson, Irene West, and Uretta Adair...

, decided to mount a court challenge to the discriminatory seating practices on Montgomery's municipal buses along with a boycott of the bus company. A Montgomery ordinance reserved the front seats on these buses for white passengers only, forcing African-American riders to sit in the back. Before the activists could mount the court challenge, they needed someone to voluntarily break this bus seating law and be arrested for it. Nixon carefully searched for a suitable plaintiff. He rejected one candidate because he didn't believe she had the fortitude to see the case through. Nixon rejected a second candidate because she was an unwed mother and a third candidate because her father was an alcoholic.

The final choice was Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the U.S. Congress called "the first lady of civil rights", and "the mother of the freedom movement"....

, the elected secretary of the Montgomery NAACP. On December 1, 1955, Parks entered a Montgomery bus, refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, and was then arrested. After being called about Parks' arrest, Nixon went to bail her out of jail. He arranged for Parks' friend Clifford Durr
Clifford Durr
Clifford Durr was an Alabama lawyer who played an important role in defending activists and others accused of disloyalty during the New Deal and McCarthy eras and who represented Rosa Parks in her challenge to the constitutionality of the ordinance requiring the segregation of passengers on buses...

, a sympathetic white lawyer, to represent her. After years working with Parks, Nixon was certain that she was the ideal candidate to challenge the discriminatory seating policy. Even so, Nixon had to persuade Parks to lead the fight. After consulting with her mother and husband, Parks accepted the challenge.
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Organizing the boycott


After Parks' arrest, Nixon called a number of local ministers to organize support for the boycott; the third one he called was a young minister who was newly arrived from Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is the capital and most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia. According to the 2010 census, Atlanta's population is 420,003. Atlanta is the cultural and economic center of the Atlanta metropolitan area, which is home to 5,268,860 people and is the ninth largest metropolitan area in...

, Martin Luther King Jr.. King said he would think about it and call back. When King called back, he told Nixon that he would participate in the boycott and had already arranged a meeting at his church. Nixon couldn't attend because of an out-of-town business trip; he therefore took precautions to see that no one was elected to lead the boycott campaign until he returned.

When Nixon returned to Montgomery, he met with Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and Rev. E.N. French to plan the program for the next boycott meeting. They came up with a list of demands for the bus company, named the new organization the Montgomery Improvement Association
Montgomery Improvement Association
The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed on December 5, 1955 by black ministers and community leaders in Montgomery, Alabama. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr...

 (MIA), and discussed candidates for president of the association. Nixon recommended King to Abernathy and French because Nixon believed that King had not been compromised by dealing with the local white power structure.

Nixon now met with a larger group of ministers to plan the boycott. However, the meeting did not proceed as Nixon had envisioned. The ministers wanted to organize a low key boycott that would not upset the white power structure in Montgomery. This was completely opposite of what Nixon and the other activists wanted to achieve. An exasperated Nixon threatened to publicly denounce the ministers as cowards. That spurred King to stand and state that he was no coward. By the end of this meeting, King had accepted the MIA presidency and Nixon had become the treasurer. That evening, King delivered the keynote address to the full meeting.

Successful boycott


What was expected to be a short boycott lasted 381 days. Despite fierce political opposition, police coercion, and personal threats, the boycott held. Bus ridership plummeted and the bus company was on the verge of financial ruin. On February 1, 1956, a bomb exploded in front of Nixon's home. In the meantime, the court challenge worked its way through the court system until it reached the United States Supreme Court. The boycott finally ended following the Supreme Court decision holding that Montgomery's segregation policy was unlawful. Nixon later described the Montgomery Bus Boycott to an audience of supporters in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

's Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden, often abbreviated as MSG and known colloquially as The Garden, is a multi-purpose indoor arena in the New York City borough of Manhattan and located at 8th Avenue, between 31st and 33rd Streets, situated on top of Pennsylvania Station.Opened on February 11, 1968, it is the...

:

I'm from Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery is the capital of the U.S. state of Alabama, and is the county seat of Montgomery County. It is located on the Alabama River southeast of the center of the state, in the Gulf Coastal Plain. As of the 2010 census, Montgomery had a population of 205,764 making it the second-largest city...

, a city that's known as the "Cradle of the Confederacy
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

", that had stood still for more than ninety-three years until Rosa L. Parks was arrested and thrown in jail like a common criminal. Fifty thousand people rose up and caught hold to the Cradle of the Confederacy and began to rock it till the "Jim Crow
Jim Crow laws
The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities, with a supposedly "separate but equal" status for black Americans...

" rockers began to reel and the segregated slats began to fall out.

After the boycott


Nixon's relationship with the MIA was contentious. He frequently had sharp disagreements with others in the MIA. He also expressed resentment that King and Abernathy had received most of the credit for the boycott as opposed to the local activists, including himself, who had spent years struggling against racism. Nixon ultimately resigned his post as MIA treasurer with a bitter letter to King complaining that he had been treated as a child. Nixon continued to feud with Montgomery's Black middle class
Black middle class
The black middle class, within the United States, refers to African Americans who occupy a middle class status within the American class structure. It is predominately a development that arose after the 1960s, during which the African American Civil Rights Movement led to reform movements aimed at...

community for the next decade. However, by the late 1960s a series of political defeats eliminated his leadership role in the MIA. After retiring from the railroad, Nixon worked as the recreation director of a public housing project.

Edgar Nixon died at age 87 on February 25, 1987.

External links


Further reading

  • My Soul Is Rested, The Story Of The Civil Rights Movement In The Deep South, by Howell Raines, ISBN 0-14-006753-1
  • Parting The Waters; America In The King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch, ISBN 0-671-46097-8
  • Stride Toward Freedom, by Martin Luther King Jr., ISBN 0-06-250490-8
  • The Origins Of The Civil Rights Movement, Black Communities Organizing For Change, by Aldon D. Morris, ISBN 0-02-922130-7