Today we will visit with Mary Louise Smith Ware who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus during segregation before Rosa Parks did the same thing and changed history.

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Mary Louise SmithMary Louise Smith (later Mary Louise Smith Ware) (born 1937) is a civil rights protester. She 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.

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.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Smith has lived there since her birth. She is the third of six children, four boys and two girls. Her parents, both deceased, 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. They could not find anything negative about Mary but she was not chosen because it was said her father was an alcoholic. This untrue allegation bothers her more than the exclusion and ignoring of her contributions by Montgomery and national black leaders for over 50 years.

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,” Ware said. “She was our role model.”

Smith continued to work for civil rights beyond the boycott and trial. She 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.

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

Thanks for your attention.

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2 responses »

  1. Thomas Daniels says:

    Mary Louise Smith Ware was another important civil rights figure. Though less known than Rosa Parks, she executed that form of protest before Rosa Parks did. At 18, she was protesting at a young age. Her actions were strong especially for her age at the time. You have to wonder if 18 year olds from this generation would have done the same. She was in turn unlawfully arrested. You have to commend her father for reacting regardless of how he was perceived. She was bailed out when it was all said and done, but even though not as known as the Rosa Parks protest, Parks even pays Smith respect. Her protest did not go unnoticed in the long run, however more people should learn about this event.

  2. Mervy Michael says:

    Mary Louise Smith was an African-American civil rights activist. She was arrested at the age of eighteen for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama. She did so 40 days before Rosa Parks’s arrest. Smith was quite determined and she stood by her beliefs and also part of case that went to the Supreme Court. It is evident that at such a young age, she was strong willed enough, and determined enough to carry out what she thought was right. One should wonder, if people like Mary Louise Smith did not have the courage to do what they did, would society have become what it is today?

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