JUNE 15, 1953

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

The bus driver threatened to arrest them, but when the Rev. T.J. Jemison, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, arrived, he informed the driver of a recently passed city ordinance that meant White hadn’t violated the law. As a result, white bus drivers began a strike. When that ended days later, Jemison and others began a boycott. 

Jemison had long been upset about the fact that although Black riders made up 80% of passengers, they had to stand in bus aisles while seats remained 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 collected at meetings went to pay for gas for providing rides. The boycott ended with the compromise that other than the two side front seats for white riders and a long rear seat for Black riders, the remaining seats would be occupied on a first-come, first-served basis. After that success, a young Martin Luther King came and visited Jemison. 

Two years later, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was born.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.