The Reverend Theodore Judson “T.J.” Jemison, civil rights advocate and one of the prime leaders of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, passed away on November 15, 2013, at the age of 95.
Rev. Jemison came to Baton Rouge in 1949 from Selma, Alabama, to pastor the Mount Zion Baptist Church, where he remained for over fifty years. Rev. Jemison felt his role in the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott was that of a Christian leader, as he could not stand to see people, many of them his parishioners, being mistreated on the buses.
(Click within text to play audio) “Invariably I would see buses going down into South Baton Rouge. And on those buses were maids and cooks and so forth who had come from the white area of Goodwood and other areas. The maids, who had cooked for whites were not able to sit down. And of course, there were only blacks down there, and the whites who were living in South Baton Rouge were those whites who had businesses such as grocery stores and what have you, and were making a living off of blacks. I thought it was terrible that they could work all day for white folks and couldn’t sit down on the bus… The blacks going down into South Baton Rouge were forced to stand up over empty seats. They could put their bags, their bundles, in the seats, but they couldn’t put their bodies. Of course, I thought that was ridiculous. I was much younger then, and I was more daring, and I thought we would have to do something about that. And of course, we did.”
The Baton Rouge Bus Boycott of 1953 was a non-violent protest by the city’s African American residents who boycotted the bus service, organized an alternative car-pooling system, and in eight days collapsed the city’s bus system. Their actions did not fully end segregated bus seating in Louisiana, but did inspire the leaders of the next battle in Montgomery, Alabama. The activists involved in the Baton Rouge boycott, especially Jemison, hold a distinguished place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement through a connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King had visited Baton Rouge in his early adult life for Sunday Vespers at Southern University. He visited again later in his life to study the blueprint of the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, forever changing the course of American history. After meeting with the organizers of the Baton Rouge boycott, Dr. King returned to Alabama and applied the lessons he’d learned. With a call for unity, he and fellow activists like Rosa Parks continued the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott.
To learn more about the direct link between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, please visit this earlier podcast episode, “People Rode Free by Day and Paid for it at Night:” How the Baton Rouge Community Influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.
To learn more about the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott of 1953, please visit these Williams Center links to “Old Ways No More” and “The Baton Rouge Bus Boycott of 1953, A Recaptured Past“. Also, please visit Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) to learn more about their award-winning documentary, “Signpost To Freedom: The 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott“.
Reverend Jemison was interviewed several times over the years and the Williams Center holds the following interviews, available for public access:
Jemison,Theodore Judson, interview by Khary Carrell and Nedra Carter, audio recording, 1996, 4700.0709. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Jemison, Theodore Judson, interview by Marc Sternberg, audio recording, 1994, 4700.0457. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Jemison, Theodore Judson, interview by Roderick Jones, Derrek Vaughn and Michelle Johnson, audio recording, 1995, 4700.0627. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Jemison, Theodore Judson, interview by Roderick Jones, Erin Porche, audio recording, 1998, 4700.1040. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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