Martha White, who helped start the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycotts, dies at 99

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tags: civil rights, African American history, Louisiana

Martha White, who played a key role in starting the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott, died at age 99 Saturday.

White was a 23-year-old housekeeper during the summer of 1953, when she would walk miles in the sweltering heat to reach her bus stop and go to and from work. But on June 15, 1953, the only seats available on the bus were designated for white passengers only.

White decided to take a seat just behind the bus driver and was soon ordered to get up. She refused, and another Black woman sat by her side.

The bus driver threatened to have the two arrested before the police, the bus company manager and civil rights activist Rev. T.J. Jemison arrived at the scene. Jemison informed the driver of a recently passed ordinance to desegregate the buses in the city, meaning White wasn’t violating any rules.

Bus drivers across the city began a strike against the new ordinance, and it was later overturned by the district attorney. In response, Jemison, attorney Johnnie Jones and activist Willis Reed led a bus boycott for the Black community of Baton Rouge.

They organized groups that went door-to-door, informing bus riders of the boycott and organizing drivers to take them to and from work, according to Jason Roberts, co-owner of the Baton Rouge African American Museum and son of the late activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph.

“We really lost a true pioneer for civil rights,” Roberts said of White's death.

Read entire article at Baton Rouge Advocate