By Riddhi Sarkar

Christopher Tyson never learned about the Baton Rouge bus boycott of 1953 while he was in school.

While he knew that it happened in his hometown, Tyson — now a professor at the Louisiana State University Law Center — had no idea about the importance of the boycott in the context of the larger civil rights movement.

The protest, led by African-Americans of Louisiana’s capital, was the nation’s first large scale bus boycott and served as a model for a more well known event that occurred nearly three years later — the Montgomery bus boycott.
The history of this first bus boycott is the subject of Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s “Signpost to Freedom: The 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott,” which screened this month in Washington, D.C. as part of the March on Washington Film Festival. The event was held at Google’s D.C. office in partnership with LSU Law School.

“I hope that as people begin to tell the story about the civil rights movement and continue telling that story, that we expand it to include what happened in Baton Rouge and other communities that may not be in the mainstream narrative,” Professor Tyson said in an interview with NBC News.

The film highlights the power of consumer activism and protest and the work of Rev. T. J. Jemison, one of the leaders of the boycott. The documentary details the immediate and long term implications of the boycott, which cost the Baton Rouge Bus Service $1600 a day and pushed the agency to the verge of collapse by day eight of the protest.
Although racial tension in Baton Rouge was high, the boycott served as a template for prominent civil rights figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. in conceiving future protests.

Tyson, along with Debo Adegbile, a partner at the WilmerHale law firm and Anika Navaroli Collier, a senior campaign manager for media and economic justice at Color of Change, an online racial justice organization spoke on a panel following the screening. The discussion was moderated by Vanita Gupta, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Read the entire story here.

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