Celebrating a special birthday

Published 7:22 pm Monday, April 19, 2021

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I want to extend a very special thank you for the wonderful response to last week’s column about Washington native and civil rights leader Sarah Louise Keys Evans. So many people wanted to know more about her.

I also wanted to publicly thank Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Brooks, council woman Betsy Kane, the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, fellow historical organization The Historic Port of Washington Project, author Amy Nathan as well as this newspaper, television media, and everyone who supported or joined her 92nd birthday celebration held Sunday afternoon at the Museum. And while Sarah was not able to attend, she was truly honored.

Sarah’s story is one that resounds of faith, courage and inspiration for all.  When PFC Sarah Louise Keys stepped off the Carolina Coach bus at the station at Second and Respess Streets in downtown Washington well after midnight in 1952 following her arrest in Roanoke Rapids NC for refusing to surrender her seat to a white Marine, little could she has known the wheels were set to turn in a motion a case that would result in the desegregation on Interstate buses, ending Jim Crow laws as to where Blacks could sit on interstate buses.

When Keys refused to give up her seat, she based her decision not to move on a Supreme Court ruling Morgan vs. Virginia in 1946. That case gave Sarah the idea that it was okay to sit where she wanted on a bus that traveled to another state.  But that Supreme Court ruling only applied to laws a state might make. So Southern bus companies made their own rules. Not all bus drivers enforced them, but Sarah had the unfortunate fate to meet one who decided to enforce his company’s segregation seating rule.  That’s why she was arrested. That is why Sarah’s case, Sarah Keys vs. Carolina Coach Company victory in 1955 closed that loophole.  The ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission stated there could be no segregation on interstate bus trips where by a state’s law or by a bus company’s rule.

To learn more about Sarah Louise Keys Evans and how this ruling came to be a law, please check out my friend’s Amy Nathan’s Book, Take A Seat-Make A Stand, A Hero in The Family. The book will be on sale in a few weeks at the museum and is highly recommended for all ages.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the Co-founder of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.