A History of Movement in Baton Rouge A Remembrance of Revolutionary Black History in the City
W ith the holidays seeming of year to remember how we got to where we are. Without those who came before us, who paved the way and continue to fight injustice even now, we’d never have seen the improvements we have. These values are central to Black History Month, and they light a fire in me to keep fighting for the residents of Baton Rouge and Louisiana as a whole. For people who weren’t around to witness it, it may be easy to forget that Baton Rouge was at the epicenter of some of the most important conflicts of the civil rights movement. It was and still is a city of progress at its heart, and a city that I’m proud to call my home. With over half the city’s population being African American, we’ve seen the winds of change blow slowly, and when they weren’t moving fast enough for us we did something about it. In 1953, Baton Rouge had the first successful bus boycott in United States history, leading the charge against racial inequality and lighting a fire that still burns bright today. From their stand came Rosa Parks and the inspiration behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott that started a revolution. Back in the 1950s, black people made up 80 percent of public transportation’s customer base here, having almost complete control over the revenues of that business. What started as a victory for equality ended with frustrations boiling over on both sides after a local ordinance proposing the integration of bus seating was approved. This led to the bus drivers, who were all white, staging a strike in opposition to the law. This act of disrespect would prove to be the final public mockery for Baton Rouge’s black citizens, who would stand for the turmoil no longer. more and more like a distant memory, this is a great time
On June 19th, 1953 — led by Rev. T.J. Jemison — the residents of this fair city banded together to form the United Defense League, and from this union a sum of $6000 was raised in just two days to support a full-on boycott. A mass of protesters 14,000 strong refused to board the buses over the next six days, crippling the local economy. This inventive plan, put together entirely by the local community, also set up a fleet of 125 free taxis to work alongside the boycott, giving free rides to the oppressed. It was from talks with Rev. Jemison that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would gain the insight to use this same car- share model in Montgomery two years later. And the world would never be the same. After those pivotal six days were over, the local government buckled. A new ordinance was passed allowing our people to fill the bus from back to front, though they still were barred from sitting next to whites in the same row. Still, from the grit of a people whose voices rang louder than ever before, the foundation of the tormentors had begun to crumble.
This month we remember our people striding in unison for a common and righteous cause, a cause that would reverberate through the history books and be brought to the front steps of the White House. A city of only 125,000 people, a city that was tired of laying down, tired of being talked down to, tired of not being afforded equal representation was the same city that wouldn’t sit by and watch anymore. Over six decades later, this city keeps moving forward.
I’m attorney Dathan L. Hill, and I’m proud to be a part of this city.
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