Community revisits Baton Rouge’s bus boycott that paved way for Montgomery, others
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Baton Rouge is full of history, and on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we look at that legacy that brushed up with part of the Capitol City.
In 2021, 99-year-old Martha White died. She was instrumental in the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, along with Rev. T.J. Jemison, Attorney Johnnie A. Jones, and Willis Reed.
Family members say Whites’ actions in Baton Rouge, served as a model for the Montgomery bus boycott.
Murals around the Red Stick pay homage to our civil rights leaders of the past, and the events that helped change history forever.
“Dr. King, when he looked for a blueprint for the bus boycott, he visited Baton Rouge and saw what the organizers had done here on the ground,” said Eugene Collins, President of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP.
The Baton Rouge Bus Boycott took place in 1953.
Back then, African Americans gathered at the Old State Capitol to boycott segregated public transportation.
“So even if there were no other people on the bus, all black people had to sit on the back of the bus. And if there was a white person who wanted to take that seat that you had, they could do so,” said Rodneyna Hart, Division Director at Louisiana State Museum.
Black people were forced to stand, even if seats in the so-called “white” section of the bus were empty.
The few African Americans who owned cars helped get people to and from their jobs.
“But when you look at the bus boycott here, you hear names like (Rev. T.J.) Jemison, you hear things like Smith, but a name that’s often forgotten about is Martha White, who sat on that bus right and was the first example we had here locally of doing that,” said Collins.
According to her family, White was only 23 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus reserved for white passengers.
The driver threatened to have the group of women arrested but then was told about a city council ordinance to desegregate buses that were passed.
This moment put Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on notice.
“He found out best practices, how it was implemented, talked with Rev. Jemison and other community leaders to get a better understanding of how to implement something so momentous,” said Hart.
There are plenty of images and landmarks around town reminding us of that history, including an exhibit at the Capitol Park Museum Downtown.
“It is something that really highlights Baton Rouge, and that we have not been passive participants in the civil rights movement,” said Hart.
8 days after Miss Martha’s bravery, bus leaders responded with more favorable conditions for African American passengers.
Last year, 99-year-old Martha White died. Family members say her actions in Baton Rouge, served as a model for the Montgomery bus boycott.
Here are more resources to learn about the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott:
Baton Rouge African American Museum
African-American Heritage Trail
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