Black History Month: Bus Boycotts Began in Baton Rouge
In honor of Black History Month, we’re taking you on a journey into the past. Most people recognize Montgomery, Alabama as the beginning of the civil rights bus boycotts, but it was right here in the Red Stick off East Blvd. where the movement began.
The year was 1953 when African Americans were upset with Baton Rouge City Council members for increasing the public bus fare. But a young preacher by the name of T.J. Jemison wasn’t going to allow this to happen without a fight. On February 25, council members passed ordinance 222, a seating law allowing African Americans to sit towards the front of a city bus.
Veronica Freeman, a professor at Southern University, spent 18 months researching Baton Rouge’s quiet history. “Blacks would be able to sit in those seats as long as the bus was traveling through the black community.”
When bus drivers continued to refuse African Americans the right to ride in the front of their buses it was at Mount Zion Baptist Church where Rev. T.J. Jemison rallied up African American organization across the city to protest.
For seven days blacks settled for alternative transportation. Freeman says this movement sparked an idea that would later receive national recognition when Rev. Jemison handed over the blueprint to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Freeman says people often overlook Baton Rouge’s intricate role in the civil rights movement. “African Americans have made a great struggle to this country not only tot his country but more specific to this state and cit.”
Rev. Jemison is one of few people still living who took part in the bus boycotts. He still resides in Baton Rouge and often makes guest appearances when in good health.