Date of Award

12-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Paul Ashdown

Committee Members

Naeemah Clark, Barbara Moore, Patricia Freeland

Abstract

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a social movement. It is often referred to as the first defining movement within the broader context of the Civil Rights Movement. Planned communication can be critical to the success of a social movement. This historical case study analyzed the communication that occurred during the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 381-day protest of the segregated bus system in Montgomery. The overall research questions addressed were: How was communication used during the boycott to inform and mobilize the participants? How did news organizations mediate and frame communication? How was the information about the boycott communicated among and between the participants, churches and other networks?

Qualitative methods (interviewing, frame analysis and archival analysis) were used to address these questions. Interviews were conducted with former participants to determine how they received their information about the boycott and how they stayed informed during the course of the protest. Content analysis was conducted on Montgomery Advertiser stories published about the boycott between Dec. 1, 1955 (the day Rosa Parks was arrested) and Dec. 21,1956 (the day the first court-ordered integrated buses operated in Montgomery) to determine the frames projected by the newspaper’s coverage. Archival analysis was used to determine the role of churches and networks such as the Montgomery Improvement Association, a group formed specifically during the boycott to help spread information to participants.

This study reveals that boycott participants were skeptical of local newspaper coverage, and instead relied heavily on the Montgomery Improvement Association, area churches and other participants for their primary information regarding the boycott. This is important in the study of social movements because it shows how critical communication networks are to a movement’s success.

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