Who Was Martha White, The Leader Of The 1953 Baton Rouge Boycott?

Martha White


A key figure in the 1953 Baton Rouge Boycott was Martha White. She had seven siblings when she was born on April 2, 1922, in Woodville, Mississippi, to sharecroppers Ephraim and Viola White. After her parents passed away, White relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when she was a teenager. In 1953, she was a housekeeper, the most typical job accessible for Black women in the urban Jim Crow South at that time, and she joined McKowen Missionary Baptist Church. She obtained her high school equivalency diploma at the age of 31.

White, a maid, spent the entire day on her feet and walked many kilometers each way to and from work. She started one of the first public transportation boycotts in the country during the Civil Rights era as a result of that habit. On June 14, 1953, White refused to let Black passengers on a Baton Rouge city bus because the White section was already occupied by standing passengers. White was told to get up as a white passenger boarded the bus after White had seated down behind the driver. Back seat passengers started making fun of her when she initially started to follow the driver’s instructions.

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2 Baton Rouge Protest Baton Rouge Weekly Press


T.J. Jemison, a pastor at Mount Zion First Baptist Church and a civil rights activist, arrived at the scene at the same time as Baton Rouge police. He let everyone know that a desegregation of the buses ordinance had just been approved by the Baton Rouge City Council. White could therefore legitimately choose to take a seat behind the bus driver. However, the cops threatened to arrest both women.

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Jemison, along with two other activists, Willis Reed and Johnnie Jones, a student at Southern University law school in Baton Rouge, urged the neighborhood’s Blacks to boycott the buses despite the fact that they were not imprisoned. They argued that since African Americans made up 80% of Baton Rouge’s bus users and paid the same bus fares as white passengers, they should be treated equally. However, in order to oppose the desegregation of the buses, the white bus drivers went on strike, which prevented the use of public transportation from June 18 to June 25, 1953. Black locals set up carpools to transport passengers to and from their places of employment.

Ordinance 251, which first desegregated the buses, was then amended by the Baton Rouge City Council. According to the amended ordinance, people may sit anywhere on buses. But the first two rows of seats were set aside for white people, while the final two were for black people. Anybody could take a seat somewhere between.


3 Baton Rouge Protest 64 Parishes


Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama, two years after White’s protest, sparked a comparable bus boycott. Jemison, Reed, and Jones’ Baton Rouge bus boycott served as a model for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Montgomery bus boycott.

Martha White kept working as a domestic helper for the rest of her life after the 1953 boycott. She kept going to McKowen Missionary Baptist Church as well. To honor the bus boycott she started, White gathered with civil rights activists in Baton Rouge in 2018.

Martha White passed away in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, nursing facility on June 5, 2021. She was 99.



Written by How Africa News

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