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Martha White dies, sparked ‘53 Louisiana capital bus boycott

UPDATED: Fri., June 11, 2021

Martha White is seen in this 2005 photo at a Women of Courage luncheon in Baton Rouge, La. White, a Black woman known for helping to launch the 1953 bus boycotts in Louisiana’s capital city, has died. She was 99. Family and officials confirmed White died Saturday.  (Carol Anne Blitzer)
Martha White is seen in this 2005 photo at a Women of Courage luncheon in Baton Rouge, La. White, a Black woman known for helping to launch the 1953 bus boycotts in Louisiana’s capital city, has died. She was 99. Family and officials confirmed White died Saturday. (Carol Anne Blitzer)
Associated Press

Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. – Martha White, a Black woman whose actions helped launch the 1953 bus boycotts in Louisiana’s capital city, has died. She was 99.

White died June 5, her family and others confirmed.

White, then 31, was working as a housekeeper in the capital city of Baton Rouge in 1953 when she took action. After a long day of walking to and from work while seeking to reach her bus stop, she decided to sit in one of the only bus seats available – one designated for white passengers.

When the driver ordered her to get up, White refused and another Black woman sat beside her in solidarity. The bus driver threatened to have the women arrested. Ultimately police, the bus company manager and a civil rights activist, the Rev. T.J. Jemison, showed up. Jemison informed the driver of a recently passed ordinance to desegregate buses in the city, meaning White wasn’t violating any rules.

In response to the ordinance, bus drivers began a strike and the ordinance was later overturned. That prompted a boycott by the Black community in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome issued a statement Monday recognizing White’s contribution to the city’s civil rights movement.

“Martha White undoubtedly shaped our community in Baton Rouge, and communities across our nation,” Broome said. “We honor her legacy today and every day.”

That boycott later helped provide the framework for the famous effort sparked by Rosa Parks that led to a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.

“We really lost a true pioneer for civil rights,” said Jason Roberts, co-owner of the Baton Rouge African American Museum, speaking of White’s death in the Advocate newspaper .

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