In August 1900, after Plessy v. Ferguson allowed segregation on public transportation, blacks in Montgomery boycotted streetcars for two years, ending only with a new city ordinance that forbade bus drivers from compelling anyone to vacate a seat unless there was another seat open. The ordinance was enforced for the next twenty years until the fervor of the boycott faded.
Since the City Code gave bus drivers the “powers of a police officer of the city” while driving the bus, any order had to be obeyed. Failure to obey a request could result in fines or imprisonment. Montgomery bus drivers required black riders to pay at the front, then exit the bus so that they could board at the back, even though blacks made up 70% of all bus riders. Black riders often complained that drivers were often discourteous to black riders and leave before riders could board, even though they had paid their fares.
The Montgomery City Code in force during 1954 required “equal but separate” accommodations on city buses, as suggested by Plessy. Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Code still had the “vacant seat” provision that ended the boycott of 1900, though most bus drivers ignored the provision and forced black passengers to stand when the bus was full. That way, no white passenger had to stand or sit next to a black passenger.