WESTERN BRANCH NAACP OCCASION

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1 WESTERN BRANCH NAACP OCCASION On December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus after finishing work, she paid her fare at the front of the bus, re-boarded in the rear, and sat in a vacant seat. Then a white man came on board, and the bus driver told Mrs. Parks to let the white man have her seat. But she refused. You all know what happened next. Mrs. Parks s arrest led to a 382 day bus boycott, the desegregation of buses throughout the United States, and the beginning of Dr. Martin Luther King s leadership and activism. Good morning. I am pleased to bring you today s occasion a mini history lesson on behalf of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners of which Sally Kost is chair and George Lucier is vice chair; the Human Relations Commission, of which Heather Rodin is chair and Norman Clark is vice chair; and County Manager Charlie Horne. And on behalf of Dr. King himself as well as our beloved, departed leaders Margie Ellison and Margaret Pollard, I am here this morning to ask us black, brown, white, everyone What are you going to do? What are we going to do? 1

2 Dr. King s leadership in the civil rights movement exemplified both community activism and civic engagement from the early days in 1955 when he was a brand new activist in Montgomery to multiple incarcerations all the way down to his involvement in the passing of civil rights legislation in the mid 60s. The fact is that people across the Montgomery community some well educated like Dr. King and some with very little formal education but a whole lot of mother wit like E. D. Nixon and Rosa Parks they all came together to demand that they be treated fairly, equitably, and respectfully. As a matter of fact, long before Mrs. Parks s arrest, the local NAACP which would have been much like our own local western branch of the NAACP had already been planning a bus boycott. They were just waiting for a person whose arrest would anger the black community into action. So, this was the role Mrs. Parks and the NAACP played. At that very point, the movement became like a snowball rolling down a hill and gathering momentum and getting bigger and faster as it rolled. The afternoon of the arrest, E. D. Nixon and other local black leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association or MIA for short. 2

3 They chose a twenty-five-year-old black minister, Martin Luther King Jr., pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as president, first because he was an intelligent, young black man and also because his position as a newcomer to the city meant he had not yet formed personal enemies who might also become enemies of the boycott. So, strategically picking Dr. King was one role E. D. Nixon and the MIA members played. Now the snowball was gathering momentum. On the evening of Mrs. Parks's arrest, a woman named Jo Ann Robinson duplicated hear this 35,000 flyers on a mimeograph machine. Anybody remember those? Imagine her making 35,000 copies! I made copies of that flyer for you, so you can see for yourself. It urged blacks to stay off all buses Monday. Just that simple. So, that was the role Jo Ann Robinson played. And the snowball kept rolling. To help transport the boycotters, a volunteer carpool began with 300 drivers in their personal vehicles. And black taxi drivers charged a vastly reduced ten cents per ride in support of the boycott. These were the roles the taxi drivers and the 300 volunteers played. Well that snowball rolled on to February 1, 1956, when Dr. King and the MIA filed suit in the United States District Court challenging the constitutionality of bus segregation. 3

4 In the same month, Dr. King and more than 90 others were arrested for conspiring to conduct a boycott. That was the courageous role Dr. King and the local leaders played. In fact, the real reason for the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which in turn launched Dr. King into the civil rights movement as we know it and, ultimately, led to the demise of legal segregation was the civic engagement and united resistance of one entire community in the South. The truth is that the people in Montgomery, Alabama, and the challenges they faced back then were not that different from us here in 2010 in Chatham County and the challenges we face. No, we are no longer ruled by Jim Crow laws. No, black people do not have to sit in the back of the bus. No, we do not have to drink from a different water fountain. I remember those days, and they are over. But we do have issues with discrimination against people for their color, or their national origin, or their religion, or their gender right here in Chatham County in The truth is that while we live in one of the best places on earth, all is not well for everyone here. All is not well for the homeless children and hungry families and people with disabilities here in Chatham County. All is not well for those who experience employment or housing discrimination in Chatham County. 4

5 And in Chatham County, we have divisiveness particularly between the Eastern and the Western halves of the county and between natives and newcomers. In Chatham County, at the third grade level, we have a 33 point reading performance gap between white students and African-American students and a 37 point gap for Latino students as compared to whites. And it is not much better in higher grades. At a mass rally on the initial day of the boycott, Dr. King said, Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, There lived a race of people a black people, fleecy locks and black complexion but a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization. On the back of the copy of Mrs. Robinson s flyer, I have listed 18 ways you can become active and engaged in our community such as participating in the census to make sure everyone gets counted or being trained by our Community Civil Rights Educators or enrolling in Citizens College to learn how our county government works or getting people registered to vote or joining the NAACP. I am sure you can think of more. 5

6 On this day when we celebrate the birthday and think about the activism of this great leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let s ask ourselves if we are we willing to, as Dr. King said, inject a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization here in Chatham County like they did in Montgomery? You never know. Dr. King and Margie and Margaret might just be looking down on us and asking us What are you going to do? What are we going to do? Thank you. 6

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