Bricklayers Hall

The two-story brick building rests on a concrete slab foundation and has 3 entrance doors.
Bricklayers Hall

Photograph by Evelyn D. Causey courtesy of the Alabama State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
530 South Union Street Montgomery, Alabama
Ethnic Heritage- Black, Law, Politics/Government, Social History- Civil Rights
Listed in the National Register – Reference number 100005355
The Bricklayers Hall, at 530 South Union Street in Montgomery, Alabama is a two-story, flat-roofed, brick office building and union hall. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2020 for its association with the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA achieved national significance during the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott that began in early December 1955 and played an important role in the development of the African American Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century. Built in 1954 by the local African American bricklayers' union, it stands within the Centennial Hill neighborhood, a historically black neighborhood in Montgomery. 

From February 1956 until 1960, the Bricklayers Hall in Montgomery, Alabama housed the headquarters of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA formed on December 5, 1955, four days after activist Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move from her seat in a racially segregated bus. For 381 days starting in December 1955, African Americans in Montgomery, led by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., refused to ride the municipal buses to protest racial segregation and mistreatment on the buses. The boycott had far-reaching effects on the development of the Civil Rights Movement. The federal lawsuit that grew out of the boycott went to U.S. Supreme Court as Gayle v. Browder. The Supreme Court struck down Montgomery's bus segregation laws, setting a precedent that African Americans used to challenge segregation in public transportation throughout the South. The way that the MIA organized, operated, and sustained the bus boycott in Montgomery served as a model for other communities protesting racial injustice. The boycott also launched Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. onto a national stage, beginning his rise to a position of leadership in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. 

The Women's Political Council (WPC), led by Alabama State University professor Jo Ann Robinson, began formally protesting the seating policies and mistreatment on city buses in 1950. They met with the mayor, with city commissioners, and with bus company officials to discuss black passengers' grievances. Although their efforts resulted in some changes, such as more frequent stops in black neighborhoods and calls for more courteous treatment of African American passengers, these changes were typically short-lived. Frustrated with the lack of action by the city and bus company officials, the WPC began planning a boycott. On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Montgomery police arrested civil rights activist Rosa L. Parks for violating the city's bus segregation laws after peacefully refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. Working through the night of December 1st, Robinson and the WPC prepared flyers calling for African Americans to boycott the city's buses starting the following Monday. They distributed the flyers the following day, and Robinson enlisted the support of community leaders, including black ministers who spread the word during Sunday sermons. Others began planning transportation assistance for people who rode the bus long distances to work. On Monday, December 5th, nearly all the city's black residents refused to ride the buses.  

On the first day of the boycott, community leaders and ministers organized the MIA to represent the black community in negotiations with the city and the bus company and to support and sustain the boycott. The newly formed organization elected Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery to serve as president. The MIA also created a 35-member executive board that included ministers, community leaders, and civil rights activists. Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy of Montgomery's First Baptist Church had been an early supporter of the boycott and was elected vice-president of the MIA in mid-1956. Jo Ann Robinson and Irene West represented the WPC.

For the headquarters of the MIA, its leaders looked for buildings owned and controlled by African American organizations that were well-established and not dependent on white support. the MIA moved its headquarters to offices on the first floor of the Bricklayers Hall on South Union Street. King later wrote of the Bricklayers Hall, "Here the white community could not force us out, since most of the members and all of the officers of the union that owned the building were Negroes." From their offices in the Bricklayers Hall, Dr. King and the staff managed the organization's finances, received and wrote correspondence, coordinated meetings, and prepared reports. Starting in June 1956, the organization printed the monthly MIA Newsletter, edited by Jo Ann Robinson, at the headquarters. During the boycott, the MIA used the union's second-floor meeting hall for meetings and for distributing shoes and other supplies to participants in the boycott. 

Montgomery's city commissioners and bus company officials refused to accede to the MIA's demands, and the boycott continued. As weeks turned into months, the MIA supported and sustained the African American community by holding mass meetings at local churches and by organizing transportation. At these mass meetings, the MIA communicated information about the boycott, and stirring speeches by Dr. King, Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, and other ministers fortified the black community's commitment to staying off the buses. The MIA's Transportation Committee, led by Rufus Lewis, organized a carpool system that incorporated over 300 privately owned cars, 43 dispatch stations, and 42 pickup locations. As the boycott began to attract national press coverage, the MIA and local churches received donations of money and vehicles that allowed them to supplement the privately owned cars with paid drivers in station wagons owned by the MIA or a local church. In February, King and over twenty others were arrested under the state's anti-boycott laws, and in the fall, white government officials attempted to outlaw the car pools. 

In June of 1956 a majority of the three judges hearing the case in U.S. District Court ruled that Montgomery's bus segregation laws were unconstitutional, but state and city attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In November, in Gayle v. Browder, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the district court's ruling. The boycott ended on December 21, 1956, and African Americans boarded racially integrated city buses. The court's ruling had broader significance as well by setting a nationwide legal precedent that segregation in public transportation was illegal. In communities throughout the South, African Americans used the court's decision in Gayle v. Browder to challenge segregation in public transportation and public facilities. The Montgomery Bus Boycott established a blueprint for the nonviolent mass protests that became a hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1959, the MIA's Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, where King was becoming increasingly involved with a new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). In the late 1950s, the MIA committed itself to fighting for equal rights for African Americans in Montgomery and throughout Alabama. Rufus Lewis led a Committee on Registering and Voting that encouraged local African Americans to exercise their right to vote. The MIA also contributed money to repairing churches in Montgomery that whites bombed as a result of the pastor's and congregation's support for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, Dr. King resigned as president of the MIA and moved to Atlanta to focus on the SCLC. Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy succeeded King as president of the MIA, which moved its offices out of the Bricklayers Hall in 1960 or 1961.

Attorney Charles S. Conley, Jr. rented an office in the Bricklayers Hall from 1961 until 1965. During this period, Conley played an important role in the legal fight for African American civil rights in Montgomery and throughout the state of Alabama. During this period, Conley worked on several cases that led to federal court orders directing state and local authorities to end discriminatory practices in public libraries, jury selection, and interstate buses. He was co-counsel in the U.S. Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, which protected journalists from libel when they reported on public officials' treatment of African Americans who protested segregation. These legal victories advanced the cause of African American civil rights in Montgomery and throughout Alabama. 

After 1965, Bricklayers Union No. 3 continued to own the building and used the second floor as a meeting hall. Over the following decades, the union leased the first-floor offices to a variety of tenants, including a school trophy agency, a dentist, and a hair salon. Longtime union secretary Percy Doak died in 1967, and in the 1970s and 1980s, the union struggled financially, resulting in several tax liens on the property. Anoo Kaushik purchased the property in 2011. Currently, attorney Patrice McClarnrny and the Southern Youth Leadership Development Institute occupy the first-floor offices.

Last updated: December 9, 2021