By ALVIN BENN
The Montgomery Advertiser
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ When Rosa Parks was arrested for not surrendering her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus in 1955, Mineola Dozier Smith and a group of other black riders found a way to vent their anger.
They left the vehicle’s rear entrance and headed home, so fed up with what they had just seen that they didn’t care how long or how far they’d have to walk.
Some vowed to stay away from Montgomery’s segregated buses until changes were made to establish equitable treatment for all passengers.
“We stayed off those buses for a year,” said Smith, who will be 92 in a few days. “We just let them know that we weren’t going to take it anymore.”
She often thinks about that momentous moment in American history, one in which she and the other initial bus boycotters played small, but important roles.
Their names, for the most part, are unknown to historians who have written extensively about the beginning moment of the modern civil rights movement. The term associated with Smith and thousands of other movement volunteers became “foot soldiers,” men, women and children who stepped forward, often without regard for personal safety, to drive home a point.
It took a long time, many years, in fact, but their message eventually struck a national chord: Treat us equally, treat us fairly.
“We Shall Overcome” became the anthem for the decade-long movement that began with the Montgomery boycott in 1955 and ended with the conclusion of the epic Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.
“A Change Is Gonna Come,” recorded by legendary singer Sam Cooke during that decade, became a second anthem of the movement and was popular with Smith and others who took long walks to prove their point.
“We walked and walked at first, then we formed carpools and prayed as much as we could,” she recalled during an interview at the Rosa Parks Museum, an appropriate place to discuss those historic events so long ago.
The catalyst for it all was Rosa Parks, who became known as the “first lady” of the movement, one that stretched across the world as others picked up her baton of change and brought about their own.
Parks, a seamstress, and Smith, an elevator operator, became friends at the Montgomery Fair Store formerly at the base of Dexter Avenue. The two had a working relationship, but it pretty much ended there. Parks became active with the NAACP and was the group’s secretary. Smith’s activities focused on family and church.
When they boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus on the evening of Dec. 1, 1955, they had no reason to think the journey would be any different than it had been in years’ past.
They each deposited a dime in the metal container next to the driver and headed toward the back of the bus. Parks took her assigned seat in the “Colored Section” of the bus while Smith stood behind her, hanging onto an overhead strap to keep from falling.
White passengers had priority status by virtue of their pigmentation, and when bus driver James Blake ordered Parks to move back and give her seat to him, she refused.
The city’s bus system had a policy in which black passengers could be ordered toward the back and a moveable sign shifted toward the rear in a sort of segregation demarcation line.
Smith watched as Blake continued to order her friend to surrender her seat. Each refusal increased the tension until the driver called police, who responded by arresting and handcuffing Parks at 6:08 p.m.
“I truly believe that if I had been in Rosa’s place I’d have obeyed the driver and given up my seat because I love Jesus,” Smith said. “But that didn’t keep me from being angry. What we did was leave the bus and start to walk.”
Parks and Smith were tired after a full day of work, but they also were tired of the way blacks were treated in Montgomery’s segregated society.
Parks’ arrest galvanized the black community, leading to “mass meetings” as they were called. Smith prides herself today as being “one of the first” to answer the call.
“Rosa was a very sweet, kind and patient woman who loved everybody,” she said. “She was our sister and if anything happened to her we felt it was happening to us, too.”
The mass meetings were held on Monday nights when two young preachers _ Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy _ led a parade of local leaders to the podium to call for a continuation of the bus boycott.
“It was one time in American history that all black folks stuck together,” Smith remembered. “We were all of one accord, and I was proud to be part of it.”
Parks and Smith parted ways soon after the incident on the bus.
As the symbol of the growing civil rights movement, Parks had become far too busy to worry about stitching and sewing at the department store. Smith, on the other hand, had become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She refused to work on Saturdays, that religion’s most sacred day of the week.
“Mother lost her job because she refused to work on the Sabbath,” said Jean Norris, one of Smith’s four children. “She knew the Lord would take care of her and us.”
Pastor Jeffery Watson of the Bethany Seventh-day Adventist Church said Smith “stands for what is right, and that means it’s morally wrong to ask a woman to get up for a man. She’s one of my favorite people of all time.”
Dorothy Shelton reminisced about their mother’s inspirational love as they grew up and lessons she has never forgotten.
“I was a little girl and the things my mother taught me back then help us today,” said Shelton. “Most of all, she taught us that God made all of us, no matter what color they are.”
Norris remembered asking her mother, “Why do they have colored and white drinking fountains?” Norris said she was told to check out the “white” fountain “and you’ll see what color the water is.”
Smith, who will be 92 on June 9 and plans to celebrate at a religious retreat with family members, lost track of Parks, who died at the age of 92 on Oct. 24, 2005, in Detroit. She and her husband moved there two years after the bus boycott began.
Five days later, Parks’ body was brought back to Montgomery and taken to St. Paul AME Church by a horse-drawn hearse. Speaking at the ceremony was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Among the thousands of Alabamians who paid their respects that day was Mineola Dozier Smith, whose thoughts drifted back 50 years when one black woman made history and another witnessed it on a segregated bus in Montgomery.
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com
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By ALVIN BENN