By Alison Barnet
That red sticker on buses, “Remembering Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” makes me long to have a bus boycott in Boston.
I’m sick and tired of waiting half an hour for the #1 bus—which I now call the Minus 1 bus—on Mass. Ave. and Harrison at Boston Medical Center. Especially around 9 in the morning. Something has gone radically wrong with the schedule, and I suspect it’s a new policy because in the not—so—distant past it was maybe a ten-minute wait. When the bus finally comes it’s packed, at every stop, there are crowds of people, and often no seats. A second bus, nearly empty, frequently follows, doesn’t stop and speeds on ahead.
While we endure the wait, standing because there are no longer any benches—removed so the homeless can’t sit or sleep—two or three nearly empty buses go by in the opposite direction. Don’t tell me the new slow schedule has anything to do with a shortage of drivers! And please don’t try to excuse the delay on traffic coming from Dudley/Nubian Square, which is not far away and traffic is nowhere near as bad as it is on Mass. Ave.
In 1955, Rosa Parks was not just a tired woman who needed to sit down. She was a long-time activist who had been Montgomery’s NAACP branch secretary. The driver told her to move from the middle of the bus to the back with the rest of the black people or face arrest. She continued to sit there and, insulted by this particular driver once before, told him to go ahead and arrest her. “I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed,” she said. Police then took her to the city jail where she was kept pending her trial. A 13-month community boycott ensued, and in 1960 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. It wasn’t easy.
When drivers order us to go to the back of the bus, it’s because the front is jam-packed.
I’ve long thought that here in Boston it’s a race and class issue. It’s entirely possible that the profile of Minus 1 riders is the reason things are so bad. We are largely low-income, people of color, hospital patients, the homeless, the elderly, people speaking other languages, canes, walkers, baby carriages, wheelchairs and shopping carts—people who need to get to wherever we’re going and can’t afford to be late. If only large numbers of white men in business suits would get on, we’d undoubtedly see an improved system.
All those people talking on cell phones ought to be calling the MBTA complaint line instead of making their loud, annoying personal calls. If they would call the MBTA and all of us could hear it, maybe a protest would begin then and there.
Rosa Parks said, “I’m not the only person who had been mistreated and humiliated.” We have been too.
Sources for Rosa Parks are from Juan Williams, “Eyes on the Prize,” and Jeanne Theoharis, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.”
Alison Barnet is a South End resident and author of four books.