College Students Desegregate City Buses
In the winter of 1960, just as
movement gained momentum across the U.S., students
historically black Paine
College joined together to
change their community. Inspired by the increase in youth activism
reshaping the nation at the time, as well as by the daily injustices
they faced in a segregated city, the leaders of campus
organizations formed the Paine College Steering Committee. This
group acted as an organizing and coordinating force for students
Following the principles of nonviolent
resistance, the Steering
Committee and student activists staged a series of protests
from 1960 to 1963. Although the students eventually held sit-ins at
segregated lunch counters, pray-ins at segregated churches,
and even a march on the famed Augusta
National Golf Club, they first
targeted city buses that still adhered to Jim
These students attacked the policy that required blacks to
enter from the back of the bus and to relinquish their seats to
white passengers on command.
On May 2, the Paine students issued
warnings to the local daily newspaper detailing specific plans
for their coordinated protest. They sat down
at or near the front sections of the city buses in direct violation
of segregation laws. Following the example of Rosa
Parks during the Montgomery
Bus Boycott in 1955, the students
refused to abandon their seats when demanded by the bus drivers.
Police arrived and arrested eleven of the students, and a judge
set a bond of thirty dollars for each of them. Later, the courts
found the students guilty of disorderly conduct and fined them $45
Those involved in the bus demonstrations
contacted famed civil rights lawyer Donald
Hollowell to explore the possiblity of using their case as a
legal challenge to city ordinances that required segregated seating
on public transportation. He agreed to represent the students.
On August 9, five students from Paine College--Henry Taylor,
Thomas Snowden, William Chambers, Jimmy Dukes and Silas Norman--filed
a suit in U.S. District Court. This case, Taylor
v. City of Augusta, sought
to eliminate Jim Crow seating on Augusta buses.
Students' allegations reported in The
Augusta Chronicle cited the denial of rights,
humiliation, and inconveniences that segregated seating
caused as the impetus behind the demonstrations. The
defendants named in the case at the time included the City of Augusta
Mayor, Millard A. Beckum; Police Chief F. B. Green; and the Augusta
Coach Company. The students requested that the courts recognize
the illegality of the seating policy and
they sought an injunction against the city to prohibit such seating.
In 1962, two years after the students filed the initial
suit, federal judges ruled on the case. By that time
Public Service Commission and the Civil Service Commission
had been added as defendants. On February 13, by a 2 to 1 margin,
federal judges sided with the plaintiffs. They ruled to expunge
various ordinances of the City of Augusta, state laws, and a rule
of the Georgia Public Service Commission that stipulated segregated
seating on public buses.
The Paine students
not only had succeeded in desegregating the buses in Augusta; the
ruling set a legal precedent for the entire state. Now a case law
had established that segregation on buses violated the personal
dignities and civil rights of black riders, and the ruling also
struck down the state law that allowed segregated buses. The custom
of segregated buses in Georgia was now illegal.
The federal injunction sought by the students against
the Augusta buses was signed on March 2, 1962. Defendants in the
case appealed the decision to U.S.
even though the court had ruled days earlier to end segregation
for intrastate and interstate carriers. While the Augusta Coach
Company asked its drivers and riders to remain segregated voluntarily,
black riders quickly took advantage of their new rights.
With minimal assistance at the beginning of their campaign, these
students began a demonstration that ultimately outlawed bus segregation
throughout the state. They proved that collective action
among students can sometimes bring about major change. Relying upon
one another for moral support and legal guidance, these students
used both non-violent demonstrations and legal strategies to make
a change in their community. The student movement joined civil disobedience
tactics to the older activist tradition pioneered by the NAACP and
other national organizations of legal change through court action.
Student activists later in the century, from those who opposed the
U.S. presence in Vietnam to those who demonstrated against nuclear
facilities and post-Cold War foreign policies, would base many of
their protests on the model set by Paine students and other youth
in the Civil
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1. The student activism of the 1960s made lasting
contributions to the history of this country. Given the
role that students played in the struggle for civil rights, what
do you think of such activism today? What sort of mobilizing
forces, such as the Paine College Steering Committee, unite and
direct student activism? How necessary is it to have an organizing
group or body to effect social change?
2. The response of the Augusta Coach Company was, at first, to
ask black and white riders to continue to abide by
segregated seating voluntarily. In today’s school lunchrooms,
gymnasiums, stadiums, and other meeting places there often seems
to be a “voluntary” segregation as blacks, whites and others assemble
in groups that reflect their races or ethnicities. What causes this
self-imposed segregation? What sorts of problems does it pose to
individual interactions and the building of community spirit or
tension (a good example would be the “white tree” at Jena High School
in Jena, Louisiana, which led to the events in the case concerning
3. Are there any current issues that you think may warrant
civil disobedience to bring attention to them and/or to create positive
change? How would you
go about organizing such an event? What would be the potential consequences
of being arrested (for future employment, for example, or for remaining
in the nation if you are an immigrant), and would it be worth it?
Take it to the Streets!
In the field of law major decisions by superior
courts set precedents or examples for lower court cases to follow.
Divide into groups and select one topic from the list below. Research
the precendent-setting legal case that affected subsequent decisions.
Did all of the judges vote unanimously on the decision? Why or
why not? Debate whether or not your group agrees with
the reasoning behind and the fairness of the the decision.
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