As we celebrate Black History Month, I honor and remember my grandfather, Rev. Dr. TJ Jemison, who undoubtedly influenced my passion for service.
My grandfather was Dr. Martin Luther King’s mentor, and was the organizer of the first bus boycott in 1953 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, two years before King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 sparked by Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. King came to visit my grandfather in Baton Rouge to learn the blueprint and strategy of how to organize. My grandfather was able to successfully get the bus service ordinance changed in Baton Rouge after only eight days of boycotting, however, it took King and others over a year in Alabama, which is why it received global recognition and is recognized as such a pivotal period of the civil rights movement.
King notes in his autobiography, Stride Toward Freedom, that Jemison’s “painstaking description of the Baton Rouge experience was invaluable” (King, 75).
My grandfather also joined King and other prominent leaders to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the following icons to serve on the initial executive board: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as President, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy as Financial Secretary-Treasurer, Rev. C. K. Steele of Tallahassee, Florida as Vice President, Rev. T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, Louisiana as Secretary, and Attorney I. M. Augustine of New Orleans, Louisiana as General Counsel.
My grandfather later was elected as president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (1982-1994), the largest African American religious organization in the world. He also was the senior pastor of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church for 54 years, which is now located on TJ Jemison Blvd. In such capacity, he regularly visited the White House as the guest of presidents and relished in building relationships on both sides of the aisle in striving for progress.
Now my grandfather’s legacy lives through me, and although I have some extremely big shoes to fill, I will continue to do my part in striving for progress and improving quality of life for all. Happy Black History Month.
Together we will!
Edward Pollard