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Fightin' with Her Feet


 Lilie Mae Bradford was arrested three and a half years before Rosa Parks

Lilie Mae Bradford had backed down from white people her entire life. She stepped off the sidewalk when she crossed their paths, and used the "colored" water fountains, waiting rooms, and toilets.


Our coup d'etat / living on peanuts

Then on May 11, 1951, after a hard day at work, Lilie Mae stepped onto a Montgomery bus, purchased a ticket, and rushed to the "Negro Section" at the back of the bus. She sank into a chair and glanced at her transfer. The driver had made an error. Now, blacks weren't supposed to go around correcting white people's mistakes back then.
 Jennifer marks the spot where Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955
But Lilie Mae Bradford decided to stand up for her rights. She marched up the aisle through the "White Section" of the bus and asked for another transfer. He took one look at her and yelled: "Nigger, go to the back of the bus where you belong!"

Lilie Mae simply said, "If you give me my money back, I'll go back," then sat in the front, alongside whites.


Silence swept through the bus. When Lilie Mae refused to move a second time, he called the police and had her put in jail.

"I knew sooner or later I'd be arrested," Lilie Mae, now 70, told Jennifer and me. "I just couldn't adjust to the system. I wanted to be free."

During the boycott, many blacks volunteered their services as taxi drivers

Lilie Mae didn't realize it at the time, but she had taken her first step down the road to freedom. Soon, she would be joined by thousands of people in the Civil Rights Movement.

The movement started when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on December 1, 1955. Although Lilie Mae and many others had been arrested for the same "crime," the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) put the spotlight on Rosa. They asked blacks to boycott Montgomery's buses until they won their freedom.

Thousands of blacks joined together to change the system. The city buses were almost empty. The Montgomery Bus Boycott had officially begun.

Martin Luther King received numerous death threats during the boycott and his porch was bombed

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association wrote a set of demands. The boycott would continue until those demands were met.

"It took about an hour and a half for me to walk to work, each way," Lilie Mae remembered. "If it was raining, I'd have to take a city taxi, which cost me half of what I earned. But it was worth the sacrifice."

Soon, the buses were losing $3,000 a day, and downtown businesses were hurting.

White segregationists planted bombs in black churches and homes -- including Dr. King's. But he urged people to continue the protest.

Even today, Montgomery's buses help spread the word

"We have known humiliation, we have known abusive language…and we decided to raise up only with the weapon of protest. We must use the weapon of love. We must have compassion and understanding for those who hate us," he said.

In November 1956, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation on local buses. After 381 days of protest, blacks could finally ride buses as equal citizens.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott showed the world that African Americans had had enough. The Civil Rights Movement had begun.


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Jennifer - No, it's not a warzone. It's Selma, Alabama
Neda - The dream that inspired a nation