Five Unheralded Women


The most often cited account of the beginning of the boycott is when Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger and that her arrest sparked the planning and execution of the boycott. The memoirs of Mrs. Jo Ann Robinson, Mrs. Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. refute these accounts. Also it is widely believed that the Montgomery movement was the first effort to end unequal treatment on inner city transportation by African-American women, however, history records show that women fought those battles as early as 1850. Elizabeth Jennings Graham in New York in1854, and Ida B. Wells, in Memphis, Tennessee in 1884. It is also believed that the boycott ended segregated seating. Attorneys, historians, and historical records point to the class action law suit filed by the plaintiffs in Browder vs. Gayle is what ended segregated seating and signaled the end of all segregation ordinances in America.

Aurelia Browder
Browder-Coleman,Aurelia (1919-1971)- plaintiff of Browder vs. Gayle. In April, she was forced to stand and give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. She agreed to join in the class action law suit, Browder v Gayle. Attorney Fred Gray chose her to be lead plaintiff for the law suit. His choice of her was because of her age and indicated that her role in the suit was equal to that of the other plaintiffs. Mrs Browder was a business woman and a civil rights activist.

Claudette Colvin
(b, September 5, 1939) is an African American woman from Alabama. Colvin, at the age of 15, was a student at Booker T. Washington High School. On March 2,1955, she boarded a public bus and, shortly thereafter, refused to give up her seat to a white man. Colvin was coming home from school that day when she got on a Capital Heights bus downtown. Colvin was sitting about two seats from the emergency exit when four whites boarded and the driver ordered her, along with three other black passengers, to get up. She refused and was removed from the bus by two police officers, who took her to jail. Claudette was the first person to challenge illegal segregation seating practices on Montgomery City Line buses in court.

Sue McDonald
Sue McDonald affectionately called "Mama Sue" was a business woman and civic activist. In October of 1955, a white bus driver on the Montgomery City Bus Line forced Mrs. McDonald to give up her seat to a white passenger. It was this reason and other acts and manifestations of white supremacy that she agreed to become a plaintiff in Browder vs Gayle class action law suit.

Jo Ann Gibson Robinson
(1912-1992) was a civil rights activist and educator in Montgomery, Alabama. Born near Culloden, Georgia, she was the youngest of twelve children. She attended Fort Valley State College and then became a public school teacher in Macon, where she was married to Wilbur Robinson for a short time. Five years later, she went to Atlanta, where she earned an M.A. in English at Atlanta University. She then accepted a position at Alabama State College in Montgomery. It was there that she joined the Women's Political Council (WPC), which Mary Fair Burks had founded three years earlier. In 1949, Robinson was verbally attacked by a bus driver and she decided that something had to change. In late 1950, she succeeded Burks as president of the WPC and helped focus the group's efforts on bus abuses. The WPC had threaten a boycott May 1954 of buses and on Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus. That night, Robinson and two colleagues stayed up all night mimeographing handbills calling for a boycott of the Montgomery bus system.

Mary Louise Smith-Ware
Smith, Mary Louise- (b. 1937), was a teen age plaintiff (18), of the class action law suit Browder vs Gayle. She was arrested and jailed for refusing to give up seat to a white passenger on a city bus October 21, 1955. Mary returning home on the Montgomery, Alabama city line bus, was ordered to relinquish her seat to a white female passenger, which she refused to do. Her stand landed her in jail and she was charged with failure to obey segregation orders. Her father bailed her from jail and paid her fine, nine dollars. The incident was unknown except to family and neighbors. Her father signed and supported her as a plaintiff in the Browder lawsuit. Mary was earlier rejected as a plaintiff by civil rights leader E.D. Nixon because of a lie that her father was a drunk and therefore Mary would make a bad candidate for the law suit. Mary along with Claudette Colvin became the star witnesses in the law suit. Mary joined the Selma to Montgomery Voters Right March, the March on Washington, and she and a sister Mary and their children became plaintiffs in a class action law suit to desegregate the Montgomery YMCA.

Elizabeth Jennings Graham
In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings was thrown off a horse drawn carriage by a white conductor who refused to allow her to ride in the ladies car that he reserved for whites only.

She sued the driver and the conductor in Brooklyn Circuit Court, Brooklyn, New York. She won her case and was awarded damages. Her actions ended segregated seating on trolleys and carriages before the Civil War and some one hundred years before Montgomery.

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was forcibly removed from a rail car in Tennessee in 1884. The rail car was reserved for white ladies only. Tennessee was the first state to enact a separate car act, demanding separate cars for blacks and whites even though it was in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Wells sued the conductor and the rail company for violating her civil rights. She won her case in local court but the decision was appealed by the rail company. She lost the appeal on a ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Ms. Wells became involved in anti-lynching campaign and did not seek a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Her case preceded the infamous Plessy vs. Ferguson.

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