Night of Terror
In Montgomery, Ala., the cradle of the Confederacy, most good citizens were sleeping soundly one night last week when, at 1:55 a.m., the city shook from an explosion in one of the Southside Negro sections. Four minutes later another blast rocked another part of the city; it was followed almost immediately by two more. By then, as thousands of startled Montgomerians poured into the streets to survey the damage, it was plain what was on foot—a well-planned, militarylike raid on the citadels of the Negro integrationist movement.
By dawn, six explosions had been set off, heavily damaging four prominent Negro churches and the homes of two antisegregationist ministers—one of them white. The ministers: the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, right-hand man to the Rev. Martin Luther King during the year-long boycott that had preceded last month's Supreme Court victory on bus integration (TIME, Nov. 26); and the Rev. Robert Graetz, white pastor of a Negro Lutheran church and also an active boycott leader. No one was injured, but Graetz and his family might well have been slaughtered as they ran from the house in panic; in their front yard police found still another bomb, made of eleven sticks of dynamite, which failed to explode because of a defective fuse.
The immediate effect of the bombings was to do what the Negro boycott had never done: 1) to stop all city buses from running, and 2) to evoke the sympathy of most of Alabama's thinking whites. The city commission, declaring a state of emergency, suspended all bus operations "until further notice" and urged parents of both races to keep their teen-age children off the streets at night. Some 75 police reservists were alerted for emergency duty; special squads were armed with shotguns and tear gas. Alabama Governor James E. Folsom, after a tour of the damaged areas, offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bombers. "Any person," said he, "who would bomb the House of the Lord endangers the life of every man, woman and child in Montgomery. I call on all people of Alabama to help stamp out such lawlessness wherever it may occur."
The Montgomery bombings came just as 60 Negro leaders from nine Southern states, headed by Montgomery's Martin Luther King, met in Atlanta for a two-day conference on integration strategy. When the closed-door sessions broke up, the leaders called on President Eisenhower to come South "immediately" and make "a major speech in a major Southern city urging all Southerners to abide by the Supreme Court's decision." They also urged Vice President Nixon to make a tour of the South "similar to the one made in behalf of the Hungarian refugees," and asked Attorney General Herbert Brownell for an interview "at the earliest possible date" to discuss possible Justice Department action to stem the violence.
Elsewhere in the South last week, mounting pressures for and against desegregation brought these new moves: In Norfolk, a federal district judge struck a heavy blow at Virginia's celebrated "pupil placement" law, long admired and imitated by other Southern states because it seeks to dodge school integration by granting a three-man, governor-appointed state placement board broad powers to control all pupil transfers, i.e., to keep Negroes and whites segregated on any pretext. Declared Judge Walter E. Hoffman, 49, in a preliminary ruling on two suits calling for school desegregation : the Virginia law "is directly in the teeth of the language of the Supreme Court and is unconstitutional."
In Atlanta, when six Negro ministers challenged the validity of Georgia's Jim Crow laws by boarding a city trolley bus and seating themselves in the white section, city authorities good-humoredly arrested all six, released them in $1,000 bail each, pending grand-jury action this week. Declared the Rev. William Holmes Borders, pastor of Atlanta's largest (5,000) Negro Baptist church, and test-case leader: "We've accomplished our objective. The fight will be in the courts, and we won't attempt to ride integrated again until it is settled."