Lucille Times obituary: Woman who Inspired the Montgomery bus boycott

Despite signature role in origins of boycott she was unrecognised for decades for her contribution

Lucille Times: “You’ve got to fight. You don’t get nothing for free. I’ve been a fighter all of my days.”

Lucille Times: “You’ve got to fight. You don’t get nothing for free. I’ve been a fighter all of my days.”

 

Born: April 22nd, 1921
Died: August 16th, 2021

Lucille Times, whose encounter with a bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, in June 1955 led her to begin a one-woman boycott of the city’s public transportation, an act of defiance that inspired a mass boycott six months later after another black woman, Rosa Parks, was charged with defying the same bus driver, has died. She was 100.

Times was driving to the dry cleaners on June 15, 1955, when she got into an altercation with James Blake, the bus driver, who tried to push her car off the road three times. She continued on her errand, but he followed her.

Parking his bus across the street, he ran over to her and yelled, “You Black son of a bitch!” she recalled in a 2017 interview. She immediately replied, “You white son of a bitch!” and the two started fighting.

At one point she bit him on the arm. Suddenly she felt a blow to her neck. She looked down and saw the high boots of a motorcycle police officer, who had hit her with his flashlight.

The officer took Blake aside, then turned to her. “ ‘Do you know that was a white man you called a white son of a bitch?’ “ she recalled him saying. “I said, ‘Do you know I’m a Black woman that he called a Black son of a bitch?’ ’’

The officer let her off with a warning, telling her that if she had been a man, he would have “beat my head to jelly,” she said.

Times drove away, furious. “My blood was almost boiling,” she said. “I didn’t even take my clothes into the dry cleaners.” At home her husband, Charlie, had already heard about the incident. Together they called ED Nixon, the head of the local NAACP chapter, and asked what they could do. He came over that night. As a child, she had taken part in a boycott of a butcher shop in Detroit, where she was visiting relatives, and she suggested to Nixon that the city’s black community could do the same. He agreed, but said the time wasn’t right; they would need money, cars and other supplies to make it happen. He asked her to have patience.

She called the city bus company to complain, but no one responded. She sent letters to The Montgomery Advertiser and The Atlanta Journal, but they refused to print them. She decided not to wait. Over the next six months, she operated her own boycott, driving to bus stops and offering free rides to black passengers waiting to board. Charlie Times, with whom she ran a cafe across from their house, collected money for gas, and they used the cafe as a planning hub.

Lucille Times outside her home where the state placed historic markers in front in 2007
Lucille Times outside her home where the state placed historic markers in front in 2007

“On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress and activist in the Montgomery NAACP, boarded Blake’s bus and sat in the front section, which was reserved for white riders. When he ordered her to move to the back, she refused and was arrested. Four days later, the Montgomery Improvement Association, formed in coordination with the NAACP and led by a 26-year-old preacher, Martin Luther King Jr, announced a citywide boycott.

The Timeses participated in the boycott, which lasted more than a year and helped lead to the end of segregation in the city’s public transportation. “You’ve got to fight,” Lucille Times said in 2017. “You don’t get nothing for free. I’ve been a fighter all of my days.”

Lucille Alicia Sharpe was born April 22nd, 1921, in Hope Hull, a community outside Montgomery. Her mother, Jamie (Woodley) Sharpe, died when she was young, and Lucille and her five siblings were raised by her father, Walter Sharpe. They later moved to Montgomery, though she lived for stretches of time with relatives in Chicago and Detroit.

She married Charlie Times in 1939 and later received a bachelor’s degree from Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Charlie Times served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and when he returned, they opened the Times Cafe. It became a social hub for the city’s Black community.

It was also a centre for civil rights activism. The couple joined the NAACP in the 1940s, and after Alabama outlawed the organisation in 1956, they let Nixon use their home for secret meetings. The Timeses remained active in the movement, participating in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery and hosting 18 other marchers, Black and white, at their home.

Despite her signature role in the origins of the Montgomery bus boycott, Lucille Times was for decades unrecognised for her contribution. Troy King, a former attorney general of Alabama who became friends with her in the 2010s, speculated that it was because her outspokenness ran against the image of civil rights protesters as quiet and reserved.

Times did eventually receive some local recognition. In 2007, her house was placed on the Alabama Registry of Landmarks and Heritage, and the state placed historic markers in front of her home and the building that once housed the Times Cafe.

Her neighbours also created a community garden in her honour and named it for her and Nixon. In April they held a 100th birthday party for her, but she was unable to attend because of the pandemic. Her husband, Charlie, died in 1978. – The New York Times