Editorial Roundup: Louisiana

The Advocate. June 14, 2021.

Editorial: Martha White earned her place in civil rights history

The world knows Rosa Parks’ name and her story, and rightfully so.

Yet the late civil rights icon was part of a generation of Black people across the South who stood up to Jim Crow discrimination — or in their cases, bravely sat down — and in the process changed the world for the better. They were regular folks who fought the good fight, and what they accomplished was extraordinary.

Martha White, who died last week at the age of 99, was a charter member of this esteemed club. Two years before Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, White, a housekeeper who walked miles to her bus stop in the summer swelter only to find that there were no available seats open to Black passengers, made Baton Rouge history by sitting in a Whites-only seat and refusing to give it up.

The bus driver threatened White and another Black woman who’d joined her with arrest, in violation of a recently passed desegregation ordinance.

Bus drivers struck, and Black residents who made up 80% of the system’s ridership boycotted and organized their own rides. Eight days later, civil rights activist T.J. Jemison negotiated with the city to provide better seating arrangements for Black riders.

And activists in other places, including Montgomery, took note.

Nearly seven decades after that fateful 1953 day, White was memorialized in the city she continued to call home, where she never stopped speaking out for social justice.

White’s “fearlessness and bold action was instrumental in launching the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott,” said Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. “Martha White undoubtedly shaped our community in Baton Rouge, and communities across our nation.”

She did indeed.