Who are the next to step up

Published 9:27 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2011

By Joe Rembert

It was good to read about the recognition, at last, of Attorney Bruce Boynton by the National Voting Rights, Museum, Inc. in The Selma Times-Journal, and a story in The Montgomery Advertiser relative to the 56th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Whenever I hear Boynton’s name, I am reminded of many unsung heroes in the struggle for equal rights.

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I was invited to speak to several dozen professors and students from the University of North Carolina at Wallace Community College-Selma, during last year’s commemoration of the voting rights struggle. They were familiar with my involvement in the development of the Rosa Parks Library and Museum at Troy State University-Montgomery.

I was surprised to learn that some people in academia were unaware of the major contributions that women, prior to Mrs. Parks, had made in the pursuit of equal rights.

Few members of the audience were familiar with Mrs. Irene Morgan (Kirkaldy), who won a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1946. In 1944 Mrs. Morgan was ordered to move to the “colored” section of the bus as she prepared to leave Virginia to return home to Baltimore, Md. When she refused, a deputy sheriff came to remove her. Morgan kicked him in a very sensitive place before being arrested.

Mrs. Morgan, represented by attorney Thurgood Marshall, appealed. After losing battles in state courts, she won at the U.S. Supreme Court level.

In 1952, a black woman named Sarah Keys, who was a member of the Women’s Army Corps, was ordered to move to the back of a Trailways bus to allow a white Marine to sit.

She appealed to the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission to declare her forced removal to the rear of the bus illegal. Although the commission had usually upheld the separate but equal doctrine of Plessey v. Ferguson in the past, they sided with Keys in this case.

The ruling was publicized just a week before Mrs. Parks was arrested in 1955.

In the case Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka Kansas, (1954) Oliver Brown was the only male among the dozen plaintiffs. The women who loaned their names to Browder v. Gale, in Montgomery, were as significant as anybody in the continued fight for justice.

The landmark decision in Boynton v. Virginia desegregated facilities at bus rest stops.

The fact that Boynton and others did not insist on the notoriety given to others, we must not ignore their contributions. Joann Robinson and an almost infinite number of names could be added to the list of honorees.

One thing that is often forgotten when we speak of the civil rights movement is that the panels of jurists, commissioners, and legislators, who made landmark decisions were not people of color. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was from Alabama and a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet he was a fierce advocate for justice for all citizens.

I will always love Mrs. Parks and I’m glad that I played a role in the construction of the library and museum at my alma mater. I am equally proud to have worked with Dr. Gwendolyn Patton and Mrs. Ella Bell to produce a resolution that sought a pardon for Mrs. Parks, Browder, Smith, Colvin and all other citizens who suffered from injustice during that period.

We owe much to the late councilman Willie Cook for presenting the resolution which was passed unanimously by the Montgomery City Council.

I do not subscribe to the notion that Mrs. Parks is the mother of the “modern” civil rights movement. I believe she and other brave citizens added another stepping stone to the climb towards freedom.

The proliferation of drugs, children killing children, the high dropout rate, homelessness, hopelessness, low voter turnout and other issues confronting society, make me wonder who will rise above politics as usual and lay the next stepping stone.