1953 bus boycott remembered by people who led the way
BATON ROUGE- On South Boulevard, at the Odell S. Williams African-American Museum, people can learn about the past.
Others, like Martha White and Johnnie A. Jones, come to sit a while and recall the past.
“Before the boycott, I didn't know a thing about what was going on,” Martha White told WBRZ.
On a segregated bus in June of 1953, 23-year old Martha White made a simple gesture: she had a seat.
“I said now I gotta work all day and stand up here and don't rest, and I can't sit down on the people's job,” said White. “And I sat down,” she continued.
White had enough of the unfair treatment on the bus system, and although the bus driver demanded she get up, she was followed by two other women and was supported by nearly the entire black community.
She said, “I built up everything I was saying and everybody was witness to it, and they all told me not to get up.”
At that very moment, the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott was born.
“I said, Lord how in the world am I going to get to work now,” said White.
Led by Reverend T.J. Jemison, the black community used a free ride system for eight days, which effectively protested the city's bus segregation ordinance.
Johnnie A. Jones had only been out of law school for fifteen days when Jemison asked him to act as legal counsel for the boycott.
“I told him I'm just out of law school,” Jones said. “I'm not qualified to handle a case of that magnitude.”
But despite his lack of experience, he took on the challenge.
After more than a week, a compromise to rearrange the seating was reached. Although it was not good enough for Jones, it did catch the attention of the nation, inspiring the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Jones said, “What they did in Alabama, being led by Martin Luther King, is what I had advised Jemison to do, but Jemison didn't do it.”
Although Jones wanted to see the boycott last longer, a movement had started. The very next year the U.S. Supreme Court would make a big decision to overturn segregation in the Brown vs. Board of Education case.
For the two people who were on the already on the bus of progress, change was on the horizon.
“We were moving forward, and I was grateful for that,” Jones said.