Paul Holmes 08 Jul 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat and move to the back of a bus 45 years ago, little did the 42-year-old seamstress realize that the incident would spark a year-long bus boycott that would galvanize America’s Civil Rights movement and, ultimately, lead to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
To celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (MBB), the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) chose to honor three key women instrumental in the Boycott’s success and the Civil Rights Movement. Mrs. Rosa Parks, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and Mrs. Juanita Abernathy were feted for their historic involvement in one of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement at a gala dinner in Montgomery, AL on Friday, December 1, 2000. The gala dinner served as the kickoff of a weekend full of events, remembering the Boycott.
Ketchum offered to provide pro-bono public relations support to the Montgomery Improvement Association to assist in raising awareness of the boycott as ‘the’ event that ultimately led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that racial segregation is unconstitutional. As is stated in its by-laws, the 45-year-old organization continues to direct “a course of action in an effort to improve the status of all people who are deprived of any of the blessings of the society in which they live.” Ketchum is proud to have been able to assist in delivering this message throughout the nation.
HISTORY: Conducted extensive research on the history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association and its impact on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Revealed that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was the signature event in the Civil Rights Movement; Montgomery Improvement is credited with taking large steps in the way of racial harmony in America.
MEDIA: Completed analysis of media coverage of the 40th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott to gauge appropriate mediums and target additional outlets not reached during 40th Anniversary Celebration. Discovered many civil rights anniversaries were limited in scope and received far less attention than they deserved.
40th ANNIVERSARY: Surveyed past anniversary planners, organizers, and media spokespersons on successful efforts utilized for the 40th Anniversary Celebration, in order to maximize national and local media outreach. Worked with past event planners to compliment their previous efforts.
ORGANIZATION: Met with members of the 45th Anniversary Leadership and Working Committees to gather input on objectives, tactics, and expected results.
INFLUENTIALS: Spoke with various civil rights leaders and their subordinates to gain insight and input in the planning process and to establish roles during the anniversary celebration.
PARTNERS: Reached out to other civil rights organizations to solicit input in the weekends’ activities, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
- Heighten the understanding of the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s historical significance on the entire Civil Rights movement and raise awareness, among the general public, of its importance.
- Recognize the significant leadership role played by the women of the movement, and the contributions of all city and state elected officials and community leaders who assisted in this effort.
- Create a better understanding of the efforts of the many leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
- Leverage the celebration of the Montgomery Bus Boycott to create a national platform to deliver key messages relating to the Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement.
- Overcome several media outreach obstacles as a result of prolonged Presidential election coverage.
- Strengthen Ketchum’s relationship within the African American community.
- Utilize media attention focused on national civil rights leaders to increase the spotlight on local leadership.
- Continue the momentum of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement by making a call for action or significant statement from the event.
- Establish strong working relationships with the local government, the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, the Montgomery Improvement Association, and other appropriate organizations to develop and implement programs and events that highlight and commemorate the 45th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Audiences: Audiences included national media outlets, major news markets, the African-American community, national and state policy makers, and business leaders across the nation.
Budget: Ketchum donated more than $150,000 worth of professional services for national media outreach, strategic counseling, fundraising, congressional relations, and graphics support for the look and feel of the event. Overall, Ketchum raised more than $40,000 in private sector contributions. Out-of-pockets expenses (approximately $45,000) were paid for by the MIA.
The 45th Anniversary Gala Dinner kicked off an entire weekend of celebrations hosted by several organizations in Alabama, including a reception hosted by Alabama Governor Don Seigleman, and addresses by Martin Luther King, III, and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. Political, civil rights, business, and religious leaders at the local, state, and national level from around the United States were invited to participate in these events.
A National Committee, Host Committee and Leadership Committee, made up of prominent civil rights, political and business leaders, were assembled to encourage participation in the weekend’s activities. All three committees were instrumental in focusing on the successes of the 40th Anniversary Celebration and building on them for the 45th Anniversary Celebration and, ultimately, the 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Working with Ketchum staff, Harvard University officials coordinated a public policy forum held at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics, titled “Forty-Five Years After the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” Featured panelists included Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, Civil Rights Activist Juanita Abernathy, Civil Rights Attorney Fred Gray, and National Council of Negro Women President Emerita Dr. Dorothy Height. The focus of the event included a perspective of several historic events, as well as a look at the future challenges minorities face to achieve full racial harmony in America.
With the assistance of web designer Datasfactual, a web site, www.MontgomeryBusBoycott.com, was created to showcase the importance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, biographies of those being honored, promote a weekend’s worth of celebratory events and those serving on the 45th Anniversary Celebration National Committee, and to thank our contributing sponsors. The web site also served to direct media to each event.
Since the event was one of national prominence, Ketchum wanted to showcase its efforts with employees from across North America. Several articles were written and posted on Ketchum’s intranet, http://myKGN.Ketchum.com, to illustrate the voluntary role Ketchum would play in remembering the historic event.
Ketchum solicited participation from Members of the 107th Congress, the President’s Cabinet, Governors, and Mayors. While several were unable to attend the event personally, many sent surrogates or letters commemorating the work of the honorees and those in attendance.
During the 45th Anniversary Gala Dinner, dinner programs, created by Ketchum’s Creative Services staff, were distributed to those in attendance. The programs included a history of both the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Montgomery Improvement Association, as well as biographies of the three women being honored at the Gala and a listing of the times, dates, and locations of all of the weekend’s activities.
The Montgomery Improvement Association gained significant media recognition. The 45th Anniversary Celebration generated extensive media coverage in national publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and USA Today. Additionally, the 45th Anniversary Celebration appeared in regional papers throughout the country including The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, The Boston Globe, and The Detroit Free Press. Ketchum’s nation media outreach efforts garnered more than 9 million media impressions.
Together with various cable news broadcasts on C-SPAN, CNN, Fox News, and Dateline NBC, the 45th Anniversary Celebration managed to overcome the difficult challenges faced by the abundance of Presidential Election coverage in all news mediums.
More than 1,000 individuals, including leading political, Civil Rights, business and religious leaders, attended the 45th Anniversary Celebration Gala, nearly packing the Montgomery Civic Center to capacity.
Invited dignitaries who attended included Ambassador Andrew Young, Reverend Jesse Jackson, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, U.S. Congressman Earl Hilliard, U.S. Congressman Terry Everett, New Jersey Secretary of State DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., National Park Service Director Robert Stanton, among others. More than 200 letters were sent by the members of the President’s Cabinet, Members of Congress, mayors and governors. The letters were presented to the honorees as keepsakes.
The site, www.MontgomeryBusBoycott.com, experienced a tripling of hits in the first three months after being posted on the World Wide Web.
Harvard students, faculty, and staff, along with members of the public, crammed the John F. Kennedy School of Government to hear civil rights panelists discuss the past, present, and future state of civil rights in the United States, raising the importance of the event.
U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young: “The people of Ketchum have helped us reach millions of people with our message." NCNW President Emerita Dr. Dorothy Height: “This was a pivotal point of the civil rights movement and Ketchum was instrumental in helping us remind the world of this."