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On this day in 1953, Black Rider sparked a bus boycott in Baton Rouge

JUNE 15, 1953

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More than two years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Martha White refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Another black woman soon joined her.

The bus driver threatened to arrest them, but when the Rev. TJ Jemison, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, arrived, he informed the driver about a recently passed city ordinance that meant White had not broken the law. As a result, white bus drivers started a strike. When that ended days later, Jemison and others began a boycott.

Jemison had long been angry about the fact that, even though black passengers made up 80% of riders, they had to stand in the bus aisles while the seats were left empty: “I thought that was just out of order; that was just cruel.”

Thousands attended the nightly meetings, and their numbers continued to grow. Money raised at rallies was used to pay for gas to provide rides. The boycott ended with the compromise that, with the exception of the two side front seats for white riders and a long rear seat for black riders, the remaining seats would be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. After that success, a young Martin Luther King came to visit Jemison.

Two years later, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was born.

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Investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell’s stories helped put four Klanmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories also helped free two people from death row, expose injustice and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms and the resignations of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, long-time member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur genius grant. After three decades working for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

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