CATS celebrates first African American bus driver, now retired

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A well-dressed man was riding a bus to CATS' main terminal on Florida Boulevard on Friday.

Clovis Hayes, 83, was wearing a suit with a red oxford shirt, red neck-tie and a dapper hat. People on the bus talked to Hayes, whose nickname is BamBam.

"Can you still drive a bus Bam?" one man asked.

Clovis smiled.

"It's been a long time since you retired..." a woman chimed in.

"I could still drive this," Hayes assured her.

"BamBam" Hayes was the first African American bus driver in the CATS city bus system. He had been a mechanic and janitor in the 1960s and was paid $1.27 an hour back then.

President Lyndon Johnson picked up a pin and signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The bus company, in response, asked Hays to learn to drive the bus.

It took six weeks of training and Hayes found himself at the wheel. His paycheck changed. He would now earn $1.97 an hour. His first route was on Capitol Avenue, which is now Capitol Avenue and East Boulevard.

Hayes remembers driving routes all over the city and in some cases, dealing with riders who weren't that pleased a black man was driving. He simply kept his calm and tried to be as professional as possible.

As the bus pulled into the terminal station in Baton Rouge, Hayes did not realize he was the "Star" of a Black History celebration at CATS. A small crowd of smiling people cheered him as he stepped down from the bus.

He held his hands out over their heads with a big smile on his face. His friends on the bus had teased him, saying he must've driven that first CATS bus pulled by a team of horses.

Hayes's granddaughter, Alaija Alexander, said he loves to spend his retirement tinkering with automobiles and driving his grandchildren to and from school and work.

Clovis Hayes is president of the usher board at Beech Grove Baptist Church in Clinton and is always willing to help anyone in need of a ride or a good conversation. He said he hopes to one day travel around the world with his family.

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