POSTED: Saturday, February 23, 2013 - 8:37pm
UPDATED: Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 11:07am
BATON ROUGE,LA (NBC33) — The civil rights movement did not begin in Alabama. It began in 1953 in Baton Rouge. Dozens of people gathered at Mt. Zion First Baptist Church on East Boulevard to honor the 60th aniversary of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycotts of 1953. The ceremony payed tribute to the movement started by Rev. T.J. Jemsion and also honored other local historical civil rights figures. Honorees say Baton Rouge is a better place but there's still work to be done.
"You couldn't ride on the front seats," Clovis Hayes, First African American Bus driver, described what life was like in early 1950's. "The four front seats in front you could be on that bus it would be loaded but you had to stand up you couldn't ride on it."
Jemison noticed buses pass by his church with empty seats but people still standing.
"On close examination he looked and found out it was black people that were standing and he thought that was a shame," Theodore Jemison Jr., Jemison’s son explained.
Jemison said his father decided things had to change, so his father went before the Baton Rouge city council to plead his case.
Jemison quoted his fathers speech: "my brothers we need to do something about this injustice. It seems that it's a shame that people can pay the same fare as others and yet they cannot sit. "
Eventually T.J. Jemison founded the bus boycott movement in Baton Rouge. The movement would be the model later used by civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King to hold bus boycotts.
The ceremony also honored Baton Rouge's first African American bus driver Clovis Hayes.
"Coworkers, the white drivers, told me they said look they are going to start hiring some black drivers and you're going to be the first one,” Hayes described. “So, he slipped and told me. And, I said well that'd be fine. "
It was the moment things change for Hayes. He went from utility worker for the bus company cleaning the yard and fixing the vehicles to a driver.
“I was driving them around in the yard parking them and fueling them, so I had the swing of the buses and things,” Hayes explained. “I just had to meet the people and learn the routes.”
Hayes served as a bus driver in the city from 1964 to 2000.
Hayes said Baton Rouge has come a long way since the civil rights era, but the bus system still needs work.
"It’s a lot of places that the bus system is needed but the buses don't run. A lot of places that people have to walk so far. If you have to go eight or ten blocks to a bus stop in the rain, in most places you don't have a bus shelter, you're going to get wet," Hayes stated.
Now it’s time for younger generations to shape the city’s future.
"Tell them the same thing that I did. You know. Be what you are you know and you can make it," Hayes advices.
“Dad believed in a word that word being perseverance,” Jemison added. “I think that young people today have to watch and learn and look at their situation. Find out a way to get beyond what ever problem they are having to persevere.”
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle hosted the event.