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  • 1950. I am standing alone on the number 66 bus en route to McClymonds High School, 12th and Myrtle St. in Oakland CA. I have in hand a clipboard. I am asking bus passengers, mostly middle-aged black women, to sign a petition protesting that service on this line be curtailed between the hours of 7 pm to 12 midnight.

    “Stand up! Stand up! We’re sending you to school every day not to take second best from nobody. No second class service. No second class anything! Stand up!”

    This was the daily barrage from my grandparents.


    The bus company had posted a sign on the bus about the curtailment of service. Many of the women who rode the bus were domestic workers and either did not read the sign, or could not, and I took it upon myself to be the translator.

    I had asked many of the kids who rode the bus to help me gather signatures in protest. But I was swinging out there alone – and this is where my grandparents came in. They supported me 100%.

    “Present yourself in a dignified fashion. People will listen to you. They are encouraged by intelligent young people.”

    Like my grandparents, this point of view was echoed by my mentors, namely, Mr. Arthur Fletcher and members of the West Oakland Homeowners Association.

    These men were politically astute and knew that you had to know the different dimensions of any issue.

    I seized on the idea of taking my campaign to the churches, which were on the direct route of the bus line. Because people did not have automobiles they rode public transportation or they walked to evening service, and that bonded people together. What affected one person would inevitably affect someone else.

    Everybody willingly signed the petition.

    And after 2 weeks and I-don’t-know-how-many signatures, the bus company backed down.
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