Martha White, civil rights pioneer who sparked the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, remembered for her bravery
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As people around the country spent the day reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, some people in Baton Rouge took the time to remember one woman whose actions may have changed his life.
“It changed what things looked like for Black folks in the south,” Eugene Collins, President of the NAACP Baton Rouge Branch said.
In 1953, a 23-year-old Black woman named Martha White refused to vacate a seat on a Baton Rouge bus reserved only for white passengers. A second Black woman sat down next to White and urged the other riders to stick together and remain on the bus.
“History tells us that Black people actually heckled her into getting up. There was another Black woman who we don’t know that actually sat down next to Martha White, in support of Martha White, so that she could keep sitting among her fight,” Collins said.
What happened next sparked a movement.
“She used to tell me the story all the time, she would say, ‘baby, I was just tired one day coming from work, all the seats in the back were filled, and I just decided to sit down in the front,’” Byron Sharper, a family member said.
Her refusal to give up her seat played an instrumental role in launching the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott.
The boycott only lasted for about a week, but the word of White’s bold action started to spread and caught the attention of Dr. King.
“Most people disagreed with how quick it ended. Most people kept walking. Most people protested Rev. Jemison, as well as the NAACP because they wanted the boycott to last longer. So here locally, there was always mixed feelings about the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, but the model in itself was absolute perfection,” Collins said.
Dr. King met with the leaders from Baton Rouge and used their blueprint to start the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
White’s family feels what she did for the movement is often forgotten and lost in history.
”I think we need to find a way to write her name in the history books and give her credit because it’s due,” Sharper said.
“If she was a man, I feel like she would have already had a statue built downtown,” Collins said.
The family says they would like to see city leaders rename the CATS bus stop on Florida Blvd. in her honor. They would also like to move the bus from the Baton Rouge African American Museum to that same bus stop.
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