Jo Ann Robinson: Mother of the American Civil Rights Movement
So here is the dystopian science fiction premise: You are riding the public bus in your hometown. It's your primary mode of transportation. When people who are considered to be better than you (as judged by an otherwise meaningless, randomly chosen, immutable characteristic of personal appearance) get on the bus, you have to make sure they have a place to sit in front of you.
This public policy requires that you move to a seat further in the rear of the bus or ride the bus standing up if no seats remain. This is true whether you are by yourself or have a baby in your arms, whether you are 9 or 99. If an able bodied young man with the valued characteristic gets on, a disabled elderly woman with the undervalued characteristic must move. You play musical chairs all the way to work and all the way home day in and day out. You count the seats and when they get on, you start to get up. Your children are required to do the same. It is your job to teach them.
The problem that Ms. Jo Ann Robinson had with the above premise is that it was no fictional bizarro world. It was reality in 1950's Montgomery, Alabama, USA, so she asked for change.
When the mayor of Montgomery failed to grant her repeated requests for changes to the city bus service, Jo Ann Robinson waited patiently for the right person to refuse to move her seat. Despite popular belief, Ms. Robinson had a Rolodex full of black folks who had declined to get up. One fourteen-year-old girl seemed perfect but, as it turns out, was unmarried and pregnant. Another man seemed respectable enough, but confessed to having liquid courage at the time of the incident.
When squeaky clean Rosa Parks was arrested on Thursday, December 1, 1955, Ms. Robinson, President of the Woman’s Political Council, sprung into action. She knew she had to strike while the iron was hot. She decided that community protest of Ms. Park's arrest would start the following Monday, December 5, 1955. This meant she only had between Friday and Sunday to get the word out.
Ms. Robinson stayed up all night generating leaflets and activating her network calling for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In a stroke of genius, she passed out the leaflets at schools the next day so they were sure to get into the hands of every working black mother and father in the city that evening. On Sunday morning, the leaflets were distributed at churches.
By Monday morning, not only did everyone know of the plan, but more remarkably, no one got on the bus. The entire black population of a city rearranged their lives in the course of a weekend and found another way to get to work on time, typically meaning even less sleep, and even less time with their families.
Ms. Robinson and others asked the little known but very charismatic, young pastor of her church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to serve as the boycott’s public leader. He said yes.
Without Ms. Robinson, the Civil Rights Movement, as we know it, would not have been born. Our beloved heroes may have remained in the shadows. Thank you Ms. Robinson, I wish we all knew you better.
*Jo Ann Robinson was herself arrested for her role in the boycott on February 21, 1956. Attached to this article is her cheeky little booking photo.
*Isn't it amazing that one person or small group of people can change the world in a matter of days? Go kids, go. #walkout #theymarchasItype #7042