TheGrio Daily

The first Rosa Parks

Episode 92
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“If you were at the front of the bus, the back of the bus, all of the seats belonged to white people.” Before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycotts a woman in South Carolina took the issue of segregated city buses all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In this episode of theGrio Daily, Michael Harriot tells the story of Sarah Mae Flemming.

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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Welcome back to theGrio Daily. And of course, all this Black History Month we’ve been focused on South Carolina and how, you know, it’s the capital of Black America and how everything that happens, especially in Black America, happens in South Carolina. First, it’s kind of like the canary in the coal mine for racism. And today we’re going to be talking about the Montgomery bus boycott, segregated transportation, and how the Supreme Court ended it. And, of course, you know, you think we’re going to be talking about Rosa Parks and some of you who kind of really know your history think we’re going to be talking about Claudette Colvin. But no, I’m going to be talking about another woman. And I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that will tell you about The First Rosa Parks. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:04] You know, when we talk about bus boycotts and segregated transportation, everybody’s mind automatically goes to Rosa Parks and how she ended segregated transportation, which is not really the case. That’s not really how it happened. If you look throughout the history or actually study the Civil Rights movement and the Montgomery Bus boycott specifically, you’ll learn that like ten women boycotted or refused to get up out of the segregated seat on a Montgomery bus before Rosa Parks. In fact, the Supreme Court case, Browder versus Gayle, that that gave us the Montgomery bus boycott and kind of ended segregated busses. Rosa Parks was not a case was not a part of that case. Those previous women were. And so, you know, we’re going to talk about that a little bit, but we’re going to specifically focus on South Carolina. So, again, Rosa Parks did not end segregated busses in America or even in Montgomery. It was actually a federal case that the Supreme Court affirmed Gale versus Browder that that ended that. But before that even happened. Right. There was this woman named Sarah Mae Fleming. Sarah Mae Fleming was born on June 28th, 1933, in a place called Eastover, South Carolina. It’s kind of like right outside of Columbia. She was born on a farm. So think just the center of South Carolina, the geographic center of South Carolina. Eastover is still majority Black. And that’s where Sarah Mae Fleming was born. 

Michael Harriot [00:02:55] And when Sarah Mae Fleming was 20, it was like four days before her 21st birthday. She was coming from work and got on a bus. And the busses were run by the power company, which is weird. I know, but it’s like that in the south. If you’re in the north, you know, the city runs the busses. But is that case in cities in the south to accept like power companies and large corporations kind of subsidize them and make a profit off of them, which is why the Montgomery bus boycott ended, Right. So in South Carolina, the busses were run and controlled by South Carolina Energy and Gas, SCE&G. And so Sarah Mae, she got on the bus, sat down, and she was tired. Right? And the bus driver told her, you can’t sit in that seat. That’s a white person seat. And she was like, What? Come on, man, I’m tired. Catch you see? And he was like, “Nah, just get up.” And so she got up and she was like, “Well, I mean, screw this, too.” And she later said that she was a little bit humiliated, but she decided to get off at the next bus stop. Few days later, in July, some lawyers came to her and said, look, you know, what they did was illegal. And she went to court and she won her case. And then the SCE&G, they appealed and a federal district court upheld the decision in Fleming versus SCE&G. That ended the segregated busses. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:41] Well, this was before the Montgomery bus boycott. So in Montgomery, when Claudette Colvin became one of the about ten women who decided that they would not move or give up their seat on a segregated bus. Now, you know, some of the myths about that, you know, still stand like people really believe that it was the back of the bus. But no, like all of the seats belong to white people. Rosa Parks was not sitting at the back of the bus. You know, the policy was that if you were Black and you were sitting down, all of those seats belonged to white people. You had to get up. If it was at the front of the bus, the back of the bus, all of the seats belonged to white people. And Claudette Colvin. One day we’re going to get into this story about one of Claudette Clovin’s childhood friends was falsely accused of raping a white woman and was executed. And that really kind of radicalized Claudette Colvin. She refused to move and then other people did it. So Browder versus Gayle. Is cited by most people as ending segregated busses in Montgomery. But the reality is, is that when the Supreme Court in that district court reviewed the case, what they said was, hey, like, I don’t even know why we’re even in here, because a court has already said that Flemyng versus SCE&G means that you can’t have segregated municipal busses. And so Brown versus Gayle didn’t go to the Supreme Court because of Sarah Mae Fleming. And that’s how South Carolina desegregated city busses in Montgomery. It’s an interesting fact, one that you will find out if you continue to subscribe to this podcast, if you download that Grio app and if you tell a friend about it. And as always, we’ll leave you with the famous Black saying. And today’s Black saying comes from Rosa Parks, who one day said. “Nah, I’m good.” We’ll see you on the next episode of theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at theGrio.com. 

[00:07:34] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network Black Culture Amplified.