MLK 50: Baton Rouge bus boycott changes city in six days

BATON ROUGE - In 1953, the black community in Baton Rouge banded together to forever change the city’s public transportation system during a highly effective six-day bus boycott.

As part of our yearlong commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated 49 years ago this month, we are reflecting on the past, evaluating the present – and seeking solutions for the future.

While King would go on to lead his own historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, starting in 1955, the Baton Rouge boycott was just as effective locally.

MLK 50: Pierre Landry was the first black mayor in American History

In the 1950s segregation in Baton Rouge extended to all areas, including and especially the public transportation system.

When extra seats were added for black riders, the bus drivers went on strike, leading to an ordinance that required all black riders to enter through the back doors of the bus.

Eventually, the leaders of the black community decided that enough was enough, and began organizing at the Delpit family restaurant.

Advertisement

“It was just fascinating to see these distinguished people, mostly men, but women too,” Joseph Delpit said.

Under the leadership of the Rev. T.J. Jemison of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Baton Rouge’s black community, which made up 80 percent of the city’s bus ridership, started a ridesharing program using 120 private cars.

Within six days, the city buckled, and the boycott was brought to an end.

Advertisement

In 1968, Joseph Delpit would go on to become the city’s first black councilperson, posing for a picture with Baton Rouge Mayor Woody Dumas and Rev. Jemison on a city bus.