Black News and News Makers in History: Mary Louise Smith

African American news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers recognizes Mary Louise Smith this week in Black historyMary Louise Smith is famous as one of the pre-Rosa Parks women who refused to give up their seat in the "whites only" section of Montgomery, Alabama city buses. She was just 18 years old when she was arrested.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1937, the third of six children, four boys and two girls. Her parents were Frank and Alberta Smith. Her mother died at the age of 42, when Mary was 15, leaving Janie, the oldest sister, to become the surrogate mother of the family. Her father never remarried and worked two jobs to take care of his young family.

Mary and all her siblings attended and graduated from St. Jude Educational Institute. A devout Catholic, she is still a member of St.Jude Church where she was baptized.

At the age of 18, October 21, 1955, Mary returning home on the Montgomery, Alabama city line bus, was ordered to relinquish her seat to a white female passenger, which she refused to do. Her stand landed her in jail and 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 from jail and paid her fine, nine dollars. The incident was unknown except to family and neighbors.

Her arrest was made known later at a mass meeting by a cousin. Attorney Fred Gray asked Smith and her father for her to become a plaintiff in a civil rights class action law suit to end segregated seating on city buses. Her father agreed, for he wanted justice for her unlawful arrest.

Smith did not learn until 1995, from a news reporter, that she had been discussed as being a test case by black leaders. The Montgomery Improvement Association rejected her as a potential plaintiff in a planned test case against segregation because her father was rumored to be an alcoholic and it was believed this would undermine the effectiveness of the planned legal action. This untrue allegation bothers her more than the exclusion and ignoring of her contributions by Montgomery and national black leaders for over 50 years.

Smith continued to work for civil rights beyond the boycott and trial. Smith, along with Claudette Colvin, also testified in the famous Browder v. Gayle case to desegregate city buses. She also worked on voting rights campaigns and attended the March on Washington in 1963. Her sister Annie's son was a plaintiff in the lawsuit to desegregate the Y.M.C.A.

When Rosa Parks died in October 2005, Smith, then 68, attended the memorial service for Parks in Montgomery, where she still lives. "I had to pay my tribute to her," Smith said. "She was our role model."

Today, Smith is active with her 12 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Now divorced, Smith raised four children. Her most enjoyable hobby is reading and she is active in several of her church auxiliaries and senior citizen clubs.

Former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove mentions Mary Louise Smith in her poem "The Enactment", in her poetry book "On the Bus with Rosa Parks" (W.W. Norton, 1999), and she also referred to her in her magazine article "The Torchbearer Rosa Parks" (TIME, June 14, 1999). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,991252,00.html.

Compiled from Wikipedia and www.montgomeryboycott.com/bio_mlsmith.htm.


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