Journey Toward Justice: Juliette Morgan and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, by Mary Stanton, published by the University of Georgia Press, 2006; 288 pages
Having just come through Black History Month, February, it seems appropriate to comment on this book, Journey Toward Justice: Juliette Hampton Morgan and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
At long last, the subject of this fine biography, Juliette Morgan, a true heroine of the Montgomery civil rights struggle, has come into her own, thanks to New York author Mary Stanton. Following years of hatred, ostracism, criticism, threats, and even attempts to take away her livelihood because of her vocal support of the rights of the Negroes of Montgomery, Alabama, this intrepid young woman's name has not been well-known to many but historian Stanton has brought Morgan's life of dedication, sacrifice, and heroism into a bright light of revelation and honor, which she greatly deserves.
May Stanton is a consummate researcher and has used over 200 sources to resurrect the life story of her subject in one of the best biographies of the civil rights era.
Stanton has previously written biographies of two other civil rights martyrs who were murdered on the highways of Alabama while aiding black citizens in their "journey toward justice," Viola Liuzzo and Bill Moore.
Juliette Morgan was born in 1914 into a family in which she had access to a good home, a well-known family, opportunities for a good education, the right to vote, satisfying employment, and all blessings granted under the Constitution. As she matured, however, it came to her that these commendations were not available to a large segment of the population, American-born black persons who were working and paying taxes.
Juliette especially hated the way black people were treated on public buses. Knowing this was the only way they had to get to work, to shop, to church, and many other places, she became incensed as she rode back and forth on the buses and witnessed blacks being insulted, forced to give up their seats to whites, and sometimes, after they had paid the fare and were told to get off the bus and enter at the rear door, the driver would close the door abruptly, and pull away before the would-be passenger could re-enter the bus. When Juliette saw this happen, and it was often, she would pull the bell cord on the bus, protest vociferously, and get off the bus herself.
Other things were bad for blacks, too, in this period of the nineteen fifties. Everyone knows the story of how Rosa Parks, a seamstress, refused to give up her seat one day to a white person. Her feet hurt and she was tired and so she just refused to move. Mrs. Parks was arrested and put in jail. When this was learned by some prominent blacks, they went to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to see what could be done about it.
This young minister who had just come to Montgomery as pastor of the
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was only 27-years-old but he realized something must be done. Some other ministers and savvy blacks decided to call a mass meeting at which it was determined to organize a bus boycott. People were advised not to ride the buses at all until something positive had been achieved in the bus situation.
So the people walked - for two years. They walked joyously and the bus company ran into the red and threatened the walkers. As Juliette Morgan observed the demeanor of the walkers, and their determination to get their rights in a non-violent and passive way, without retaliation, she felt they were behaving similarly to the movement in India led by Mohondas Gandhi in which Gandhi led his people in a brilliant revolt against the aggressive, long-time oppression of the British. Others felt the boycott and walking was comparable to Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, but Dr. King agreed with Juliette and wrote about her letters to the editors in one of his books, stating how the support of just one white person had been useful.
Author Stanton has brought Juliette Morgan to life in the most readable way and one is imbued with the idea that one knows her by the clarity of the characterization. The reader begins to sympathize with Juliette as the taunting and brutal acts are carried out against her. Even her friends, mother and family members at times try to get her to give up her crusade. She becomes morose, suffers a deep depression, becomes anorexic and has panic attacks as the abuse becomes more vituperative. Many whites who felt as she did were afraid to support her and remained silent, even her minister. She did have some friends, but few and far between.
When a cross was burned in front of her home, and her situation became seemingly hopeless, she visited a psychiatrist who recommended shock treatments which seemed to do only harm, and finally she had a hysterectomy. In time, she resigned from her job at the public library and felt she could not go on. From time to time, she had spent time in Heflin, Al. where some of her people lived who had influence. Her Aunt Bert owned the Ceburne News and asked Juliette to help her with the paper. Juliette did write columns and did research and loved living in Heflin, but her mother wanted her back in Montgomery and feigned illness to get Juliette to come back to Montgomery. She returned although she loved living and working in Heflin.
It would seem that Stanton's purpose in writing this book is to record for all time the climate of the boycott and to show how much conditions have changed, thanks to people like Juliette Morgan. These positive changes, while not yet enough, have made a great difference. President John F. Kennedy has said that history is the most important subject for study, and it has been said that if we don't learn the lessons of history, we will just wind up repeating them. Who of us would like to repeat the violence and ugliness, murder, and terrible events of the civil rights period? Juliette's travails and venomous treatment soon became more than she could bear and finally she became so despondent she felt she could not go on.
Please read this book; you will not be disappointed. It is well-written, better than most novels and it is true, well-researched, beautiful and sad - a story of a beautiful and sad champion of civil rights for all. As Tomas Jefferson said, we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Because of her beliefs in equality, Juliette was not allowed to experience a full life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Her story as told by Mary Stanton is spell-binding with unbelievable detail, and anyone who knows anything about Alabama or anyone who would like to know more, will benefit greatly from reading this. While the setting of the book is Alabama, the scope of it is nationwide.
Finally, thanks to Mary Stanton, Juliette Morgan's ideas have been redeemed. She has been inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame for Women (2005) and the name of the public library in Montgomery where she suffered so much and fought for her principles, has been re-named in her honor. She was a truly brave, intrepid, sensitive, heroic, extraordinary woman and deserves our adulation, our admiration and our appreciation. Like Dr. King, she was a true martyr for a great cause, and to Mary Stanton, another great and talented lady, was say "thank you, and well done."