Civil Rights Era bus boycotts and the heroes who led the way

Rosa Parks & Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Source: cnn.com

To honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., tomorrow (January 15) and Rosa Parks upcoming birthday on February 4, the following post identifies the peaceful bus boycotts that took place during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. As will become evident while reading the list, local ministerial activists like Dr. King spearheaded the majority of these non-violent efforts. Meanwhile, additional bus boycotts were led by students and other Civil Rights advocates.

When one thinks of the bus boycotts that took place in the South to protest Jim Crow segregation laws, the first thought is that they were all conducted in the same manner as the most famous one in Montgomery, Alabama. While there were many similarities, each boycott took on its own format and approach.

Tallahassee Bus Boycott – Source: tallahasseearts.org

Presented below is a chronological list of the local bus boycotts that took place during Jim Crow segregation in the South. The list does not include boycotts of bus lines that operated nationally or regionally.

Reviewing the list of protests shows that, at the time, all but two of the bus boycotts took place in small to medium-sized cities. The exceptions were Atlanta and Birmingham. This would make sense from an organizational and logistical standpoint. Coordination and communications for such an effort would be much more difficult in a larger city, especially in a period with-out smartphones. Furthermore, a larger geographic area would make alternatives to taking the bus during a boycott more arduous, especially walking.  Whether these issues contributed to employing the alternative boycott approach used in Atlanta is unclear.

More details on the boycotts that took place in Spartanburg, Macon, and Hattiesburg identified below would be appreciated. As always, any additional corrections, or suggestions are most welcome.

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana (June 19 – 24, 1953)

Rev. T.J. Jemison – Source: oralhistory.blogs.lib.lsu.edu

  • The first of the bus boycotts in the South
  • Both insured and served as a model for the Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • Led by Rev. Theodore J. Jemison, of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church, who with other black leaders established the United Defense League for conducting the peaceful protest
  • Partially prompted by the revoking of 40 black-owned bus permits by the city in 1950
  • Approximately 80% of ridership were African-American, but were forced to sit in the back of the bus
  • Ordinance 222 passed in January 1953, that allowed black to sit in the front sections the  bus, but not next to or in front of whites – Ordinance 222 was overturned by the State Attorney General in June 1953.
  • Boycotters would turn their backs at buses as they approached a stop and instead take a taxi, private car, or walk.
  • After five days, the city capitulated to to some degree, by passing a new ordinance that reduced the number of white seats on the buses, but did not end segregation on them.
  • There has been some debate since the boycott on whether Rev. Lemison should have pushed harder for full integration of the bus system.

Source: 64parishes.org

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Montgomery, Alabama (December 5, 1955 – December 20, 1956)

Rosa Parks’ mug shot in 1955 – Source: vox.com

  • The peaceful boycott began four days after Rosa Parks was arrested and fined on December 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat (located in the front row of the black section of the bus) for a white man.
  • Plans for an earlier bus boycott were scrapped nine months beforehand when it was discovered that the arrested bus rider, 15-year old Claudette Colvin, was expecting.

Claudette Colvin – Source: bbc.com

  • Boycott was led by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which consisted of local black leaders.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, was elected president of the association and oversaw the peaceful protest.
  • Initial demands did not include segregation, but demanded courtesy, the hiring of black bus drivers, and a first-come, first serve seating policy.
  • African-Americans accounted for 75% of the city’s bus ridership
  • African-Americans walked, drive their own vehicles, carpooled, or took taxis instead.
  • Considered the first large-scale demonstration against segregation
  • The boycott lasted 381 days – until the U.S. Supreme Court decided the segregated seating violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Acts of violence by members of the KKK took place in January 1957. This included snipers shooting at occupied buses and bombings of the homes of black leaders. The violent response to court decision and bus integration settled down after eight white supremacists were arrested on January 30, 1957.
  • The 1990 film, The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek depicts many of the events that took place during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Rosa Parks’ Cleveland Avenue bus – Source: commons.wikimedia.org

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Spartanburg, South Carolina (December 1955 – ?)

Ruth Beatty – Source: goupstate.com

  • A boycott initiated by Ruth Wilson Beatty and other African-Americans after learning about Rosa Parks efforts in Montgomery and that Columbia, South Carolina resident Sarah Mae Fleming had been removed from a bus, punched by the driver, and subsequently arrested on June 22, 1955.
  • Boycotters walked, shared rides, and used taxi services instead of riding the bus.
  • Local ministers provided rides for protesters
  • City buses became fully integrated in 1957.

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Tallahassee, Florida (May 26, 1956 – December 20, 1956)

Carrie Patterson and Wilhelmina Jakes – Source: zinnedproject.org

  • Initiated after two students from Florida A&M University – Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, who sat down in a whites-only section and refused to move, were arrested for doing so
  • The KKK burned a cross in front of the women’s residence the day following the incident.
  • Students at the school initiated a campus-wide boycott and were joined by community leaders.
  • The subsequent boycott was coordinated by the Inter-Civic Council established the Rev. Charles Kenzie Steele, of Bethel Baptist Church.
  • Carpools were established to transport the boycotters.
  • Boycott ended and the bus system became integrated after the Supreme Court decision was made regarding Montgomery

Source: zinnedproject.org

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Birmingham, Alabama (December 20, 1956 – November 1958)

Dr. Shuttlesworth – Source: encyclopediaoralabam.org

  • Peaceful protest was organized by Dr. Fred Lee Shuttlesworth, Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church and the Alabama Christian Movement for Civil Rights
  • City given six days to desegregate the bus system
  • Dr. Shuttleswoth’s home was bombed the on Christmas Day – the entire family survived the attack (see photo below)
  • Formal boycott of the bus system began on December 26
  • The bus boycott concluded in November of 1958, though segregation of buses in Birmingham continued as city policy until 1963.

Dr. Shuttlesworth outside his bombed home – Source: npr.org

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Atlanta, Georgia (January 8 – 9, 1957)

Triple L Movement leaders – Source: georgiaencyclopedia.org

  • Initiated as a peaceful protest by black clergy members after the Supreme Court decision on Montgomery
  • Named Triple L Movement, for Love, Law, and Liberation
  • Led by Rev. William Holmes Borders, of Wheat Street Baptist Church – other ministers who participated – Rev. R. B. Shorts, Rev. R. Joseph Johnson, Rev. Howard T. Bussey, and Rev. Ray Williams.
  • Staged violations of Georgia’s Jim Crow common carrier laws to establish a legal court case challenge
  • Instead of the general public boycotting segregation by not riding buses, this protest involved six ministers boarding a bus, sitting in the front (white) section, and then being arrested for this disobedient act.
  • The federal district court in Atlanta decided in favor of the six ministers on January 9, 1959.

Rev. Borders – Source: miltonkelly.wordpress.com

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Rock Hill, South Carolina (July 13, 1957 – December 1957)

Rev. Cecil A. Ivory – Source: storiesofstruggle.com

  • Sparked by a July 13, incident where Addelene Austin was told to vacate her seat aside a white woman even though the woman had invited her to site next to her

Addelene Austin White – Source: freedom walkway.com

  • Black bus riders turned their backs on the buses the next day.
  • The peaceful protest formally began on July 22, and was led by Rev. Cecil A. Ivory, Pastor of Hermon Presbyterian Church, who was also the head of the local NAACP chapter.
  • Local Committee for Preservation of Human Rights was setup as the steering committee for the boycott
  • The boycott was extended in August to include the taxi company that was owned by the bus company.
  • A fleet of cars used to carpool riders during the boycott
  • The boycott forced the bus company out of business.
  • Local African-American leaders and churches purchased buses through donations to replace the service – this operated until 1961.
  • Sadly, Rev, Ivory died on November 10, 1961, from an infection.
  • Integrated city bus services did not occur in 1965
  • Both Rev. Ivory and Addelene Austin are honored as part of Rock Hill’s Freedom Walkway

 

Freedom Walkway – Source: visityorkcounty.com

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Jackson, Tennessee (October 13 – 15, 1960)

Lane College students protesting in downtown Jackson – Source: orig.jacksonsun.com

  • Two sets of three Lane College students board buses in Jackson, sit behind the driver,  and refuse to move when requested. They are arrested.
  • Pickets protested at bus stops in downtown Jackson (see photo above)
  • No one rode the entire bus system on October 14th – the white community participated inadvertently, as their were no white passengers that day, as well.
  • The manager of the bus system met with black leaders and agrees to desegregate the system.

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Macon, Georgia (February 9, 1962 – March 5, 1962)

  • Began with four African-American ministers sitting in the white-only section of a bus
  • Led by William “Billy” P. Randall, local leader of the NAACP, to end segregation on Macon buses and increase the employment of African-Americans as bus drivers and mechanics
  • Peaceful protest that lasted three weeks – took several more months for integration of the bus system to be fully implemented

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama (May 1962 and August 1964 – April 12, 1965)

Rev. T.Y.Rogers – Source: exhibits.stanford.edu

  • Began after May 5, 1962, when three black students from Stillman College and a high school student were ordered to give up their seats. They were later arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
  • The Minister’s Alliance met and formed the Tuscaloosa Citizens for Action Committee, which was led by Rev. Willie Herzfeld, Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church
  • Though Druid Bus Transit promised integration after the 1962 incident, problems continued for several years
  • The shooting of a black passenger by a white bus driver on August 3, 1964, led to a renewed boycott, led by Rev. Theophilus Y. Rogers, Jr., Pastor of First African Baptist Church.
  • Ridership dropped by 60% during the boycott
  • Druid Bus Transit ignored the boycott and ended its services on November 10, 1964
  • Informal network of “courtesy cars” employed to transport residents
  • A new bus service, Tuscaloosa Transit Company, began integrated service and employment on April 12, 1965.
  • Tragically, Reverend Rogers died from injuries sustained in an auto accident on March 26, 1971.

Hattiesburg, Mississippi  (1967)

Daisy Harris Wade – Source: legacy.com

  • Boycott initiated against the bus system for failing to hire minorities
  • Organized by local Civil rights leaders including Daisy Harris Wade

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SOURCES:

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