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On June 15, 1953, the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott occurred. It was the first public transit bus boycott by African Americans in the U.S. Years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the black residents of Baton Rouge took a stand against racism and segregation. In 1950, the city began to require all residents to use segregated public bussing. Prior to this, black residents utilized black-owned public transportation. Black residents had to sit at the back half of the bus or stand, even if seats in the “white” section were empty. Black passengers comprised 80% of bus passengers and were fed up with standing up on buses while “white” seats remained empty, particularly after the company had raised fares from ten to fifteen cents in January 1953.
The Baton Rouge bus boycott was led by Reverend T. J. Jemison, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, one of the city’s largest Black churches. The boycott was sustained by providing alternative forms of free transportation for black residents using a network of volunteers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr borrowed this strategy and used it during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Baton Rouge Boycott ended when the city’s white power structure and the black community agreed to a compromise. Going forward two seats near the front of the bus were reserved for whites and a long rear seat was reserved for African Americans. The remaining seats were accessible to all passengers on a first-come, first-serve basis. The boycott ended on June 25, 1953. While the Baton Rouge boycott lasted only two weeks, its impact was significant as a precedent-setting event within the civil rights movement.
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