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OBITUARIES : T.J. JEMISON, 1918 - 2013

Led Baton Rouge bus boycott in '53

November 27, 2013|Times Staff and Wire Reports
  • The Rev. T.J. Jemison escorts civil rights protesters Mary Briscoe, left, and Sandra Ann Jones after they were released from jail in Baton Rouge, La., in April 1960.
The Rev. T.J. Jemison escorts civil rights protesters Mary Briscoe, left,… (Associated Press )

The Rev. T. J. Jemison, a longtime Louisiana pastor and civil rights leader who helped lead a 1953 bus boycott in Baton Rouge that served as a model for the landmark boycott in Montgomery, Ala., two years later, has died. He was 95.

Jemison died of natural causes Nov. 15 at a hospital in Baton Rouge, his son, Ted Jemison, told the Associated Press.

The elder Jemison was the longtime pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge and served as president of the National Black Convention, the largest black Baptist organization in the United States, from 1982 to 1994.

The Baton Rouge boycott is not as well-known as the yearlong protest in Alabama, launched in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white bus rider. Jemison attributed its relative obscurity to its much shorter duration of eight days. Still, the boycott by black riders -- aimed at protesting segregated seating on buses that relegated blacks to the back -- got attention.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, November 28, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Rev. T.J. Jemison: In the Nov. 27 LATExtra section, the obituary of the Rev. T.J. Jemison, a Louisiana civil rights leader, misidentified the national organization he led in the 1980s and '90s. It is the National Baptist Convention, not the National Black Convention.

Seats in the front of Baton Rouge city buses were for white riders only. Even if those "white" seats were empty, black riders had to stand if seats set aside for them in the back of the bus were full. Blacks made up nearly 80% of the riders and relied on the transportation to get to jobs as service workers in primarily white neighborhoods.

"We weren't trying to end segregation," Jemison told The Times in 2003, on the 50th anniversary of the Baton Rouge bus boycott. "We were just trying to get people the right to sit down."

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote about Jemison in his 1957 book, "Stride Toward Freedom," sought his fellow pastor's advice when organizing the Montgomery bus boycott.

King wanted to know how the leaders of the Baton Rouge boycott arranged carpool rides so people could avoid using the buses and how they used radio to communicate with each other.

When King became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Jemison was a founding member, serving as the organization's secretary.

"He came up in a time when there was overt racism, but he always preached togetherness," Ted Jemison said. "He also believed that everybody deserves a fair share. I think that's one of the greatest things about him. He never changed his tune. He believed in a man's worth, regardless of skin color."

In a 2003 Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper story marking the boycott's 50th anniversary, 84-year-old Freddie Green recalled sitting guard duty with a shotgun on Jemison's front porch after crosses were burned in the minister's yard and at the church.

Theodore Judson Jemison was born Aug. 1, 1918, in Selma, Ala., to a preacher father. He received his bachelor's degree from Alabama State University, a historically black college in Montgomery, in 1940, and a divinity degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va., in 1945. He became pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist in 1949, a position he held for the next 54 years.

As president of the National Black Convention, Jemison led the group into liberal social activism.

But he lost support within the organization in 1991, when he defended boxer Mike Tyson against a rape accusation. Tyson was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Jemison's survivors include his son and two daughters.


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