Miranda: Revue Pluridisciplinaire du Monde Anglophone (Feb 2015)

The Cross-National Diffusion of the American Civil Rights Movement: The Example of the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963

  • Claire Mansour

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10


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This paper is a case study of the bus boycotts of Montgomery in the US (1955-56) and Bristol in the UK (1963). Since the two movements seem to share a number of similarities, the aim of this paper is to determine if they are an instance of what the sociologists Doug McAdam and Dieter Rucht have called “cross-national diffusion” and to explain this phenomenon. The first part of this article will focus on the cultural similarities between African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans to show that they are a necessary condition for diffusion because they enabled black Bristolians to identify with the Civil Rights activists in the US. Then the second part will argue that the Bristol Bus Boycott is not a mere copy of its Montgomery source and that the specificity of the British context endowed it with new characteristics. Finally, the third part will demonstrate that the relational channel between the two movements played a crucial part in the diffusion process. Indeed it accounts for the rational choice of taking the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a model in spite of the differences between the two contexts, in an effort to generate propaganda intended to force the bus company to lift the colour bar.