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Montgomery Bus Boycott Lessons
1/4/2017 12:42:15 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

My recently departed Aunt Sarah Lees Cooper, who taught public schools in Kingstree for some 40 years I guess, used to say that getting old is a blessing, but so darn inconvenient! I’m not a very old man, but I’m getting there and I’m learning what she meant. For several weeks I’ve been trying to write a column about the Montgomery Bus Boycott – I keep forgetting.

I often refer to the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott when I think about Black Empowerment. As we go into a new year with a new presidential administration, Black Empowerment will become increasingly more essential to the advancement of colored people.

December 20 was the 60th anniversary of the conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Boycott started some 381 days previously December 5, 1955. The boycott started four days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Her action was no coincidence. It was an orchestrated action by civil rights leaders in Montgomery, Ala.

I met Rosa Parks back in 1987 when we buried Mama Seppy (Septima P. Clark). I was asked to pick Rosa Parks up from the airport. Beautiful woman! She had a quiet, demure spirit. Hardly the type one might think to challenge the United States on racial discrimination. Mama Seppy earlier had taught Rosa Parks at Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a school that trained civil and workers’ rights advocates. Mama Seppy once told me she was surprised to learn of Parks’ role in the bus boycott because Parks was such a quiet, unassuming woman. Them’s the ones you gotta watch out for! Reflecting on the bus boycott right now makes me think about a couple of things – one is that women have played invaluable roles in the advancement of black people. I’ve read that it was a lady named Ella Baker who made Martin L. King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) the mover and shaker it became.

Many of the handkerchief-head ministers who previously ran the organization refused to allow a woman to head it so they recruited King. Baker, I read, was the power behind the throne all along. It was Baker who recruited and organized the members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which I believe was the heart, soul, arms and legs of the Civil Rights Movement. The other thing I’m thinking is how black folks feel that stuff is just supposed to happen. Stuff doesn’t just happen, you must make things happen! So I use the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an example of how black folks back in the day made things happen.

The subject of black empowerment came up the other day at my new watering hole, The Spot 47, on Cooper Street. George’s baby sister and her husband really have transformed the joint – TV, music, food, beer and good conversation. I met former U.S. Senate candidate Dimitri Cherny there prior to the November election.

One of the patrons the other day was saying that black folks don’t know how to do business, organize themselves or empower themselves. I guess if you look at my generation of black folks it’s not hard to get that impression. My generation of black folk is one of the most educated and empowered generation of black folks in the history of this country. Yet as Stevie Wonder might say, “We haven’t done nothin’.”

Coming out of slavery, defeated in Reconstruction and fighting Jim Crow discrimination, black folks at the start of the 20th century established communities and institutions that enhanced their survival in a hostile society. All across this country and right here in Charleston communities like Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Ok., Rosewood, Fla., Liberty Hill in the North Area, Lincolnville in Charleston County and Radcliffborough/Elliottborough in downtown Charleston thrived with black businesses and institutions that sustained their residents. They are evidence that black folk know how to empower themselves. Black folks today need to have a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting. We meet about everything else and get nothing accomplished. We need a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting - one where we lay it all on the line and seriously commit to making changes. Them Donald Trump folks ain’t playing! They ‘bout to turn back the hands of time. But we can beat that. We beat ‘em before.

I recently heard some guy, Shaun King, out of New York talking about the Injustice Boycott. Go to for more info. He admonishes black folks to let their dollars do what they didn’t do with their votes. I’m a strong proponent for economic sanctions. Black folks control over $1 billion in consumer spending. We buy everything! If it’s shiny and looks new, black folks will buy it. Never mind whether or not we need it, just show it to us and we’ll buy it. Black woman’s kid can’t spell that longclass name they give ‘em, but she going to get her hair and nails did. Never mind tutoring lessons. I think in order to get ahead, black folks need to go back in a lot of ways – how we do and how we think about things.

The old folks did so much more with so much less than we have. I don’t make a lot of money. But heck, I make at least three times as much as my parents did and haven’t accomplished half as much as they did! My dad had a fourth grade education and raised four kids. We all had the opportunity to go to college. I went to three of ‘em!

But I digress. The point I want to make is that we - black folks, brown folks, white folks, poor folks, disenfranchised folks, folks who know that this country ain’t headed in the right direction – don’t have to follow like lambs to slaughter those who through their ignorance and greed would destroy our society. We can fight back with our dollars and ‘sense’. Because as Marvin Gaye put it so succinctly, “This ain’t livin, ya’ll. Naw, na, na, na!”

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