Elevate Difference

Journey Toward Justice: Juliette Hampton Morgan and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

For those of us who remember the Civil Rights struggle of the '60s and '70s, this book is a valuable reminder of just where life stood back then, how far we’ve come and how much further we still have to go. Journey Toward Justice is the intimate story of one woman’s emerging awareness of the injustice permeating the life of her community and the development of a conscience that would not be denied.

This story shows clearly where women were back then and the courage required to step outside an appointed role. It shows how determined the white majority were to maintain the status quo, how courageous were those determined to effect change. Most women today don’t know what it meant to be a second class citizen, to know that career opportunities were limited to nurse (not doctor or hospital administrator), teacher (never principal), secretary (period) or librarian. And this was for middle-class white women.

Juliette Hampton Morgan starts out as an eminently likable young woman. As her story unfolds she becomes an eminently admirable one as well. Her story reads more like a novel than a real-life story. Her childhood was shadowed by family conflict - her young adulthood tainted by family responsibilities and sacrifices she shouldered - which makes the reader burn at the injustice of the demands made. Through it all she was sustained by the lifelong friendships she made, many of them in the organizations she joined or helped establish while seeking to better her community.

Working as a librarian, Juliette took the bus to her work and, in doing so, began to observe not just the segregation, but the ill treatment accorded black riders. In protest, she began getting off the bus every time she witnessed a bus driver cheating or abusing black riders. This brought no change, so she began writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper.

Since Juliette knew the editor, her letters were published. What followed was not a concerted campaign on her part, but a series of eloquent letters written over time in support of desegregation. Her letters were not written to be published, but as the personal expression of someone distressed by the inequities she witnessed,and her prognosis for a future vastly improved by allowing equal access to publicly funded education, transportation and housing. During the second World War she wrote that if a black man was good enough to die for his country, surely he deserved a seat on the bus.

As events around Juliette escalated, she refused to change her position, refused to “shut up” and resolutely stood her ground, despite the toll it took on her physical health. It eventually cost her her life.

Written by: Margaret E. Guthrie, March 11th 2007