Black in the Day…One of the First To Refuse

October 21, 1955:

On this date 18 year old Mary Louise Smith was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white passenger.

Mary Louise Smith was born in Montgomery, Alabama into a Catholic family. She and all her siblings attended and graduated from St. Jude Educational Institute. She is still a member of St. Jude Church, where she was baptized.

At the age of 18, on October 21, 1955, Smith was returning home on the Montgomery city bus, and was ordered to relinquish her seat to a white passenger who had boarded later. She refused to do so and was arrested. She was charged with failure to obey segregation orders, some 40 days before the arrest of Rosa Parks on similar charges. Her father bailed her out of jail and paid her nine-dollar fine. The incident was initially known only to family and neighbors.

She is one of several women who were arrested for this offense prior to Rosa Parks that year. Parks was the figure around whom the Montgomery Bus Boycott was organized, starting December 5, 1955.

On February 1, 1956, Smith was one of five women named as plaintiffs in the federal civil suit, Browder v. Gayle, challenging the constitutionality of the state and local bus segregation laws. On June 13, 1956, a three-judge panel of the United States District Court ruled that the laws were unconstitutional. The ruling was upheld by the United States Supreme Court on November 13 in a landmark decision, and in December it declined to reconsider. On December 20, 1956, the Supreme Court ordered Alabama to desegregate its buses and the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended.

Mary’s civil rights activities did not end with her stand – sit – on the bus. She, along with her sister and their children, were part of a class action law suit for the desegregation of the Montgomery YMCA. Mary also participated in the March on Washington in 1963, and the march, led by Marin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, for equal voting rights.

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