Interview with James Batiste:
Rahshada Jenkins: What stories did you parents tell you about the Baton Rouge bus boycott?
James Batiste: Well at the time my daddy didn't usually ride the bus, I rode the bus.
Jenkins: Could you please share with us any conflicts in your childhood experiences.
Batiste: Well like back in 1961 when I first rode the bus I was living in Scottlandville. Scottlandville is where I was raised. It use to be the Black bus we use to call it and the White bus, the white bus line. The white bus line was down here and the Black bus line was in Scottlandville and it use to run from Scottlandville to down here and we use to have to get off the Scottlandville bus to ride the Baton Rouge bus and that is where it was a whole lot different from the Scottlandville bus. On the Scottlandville bus I could ride any where I wanted but on the Baton Rouge bus line I had to ride in the back. I couldn't ride in the front.
Jenkins: Did you always go the the back or did you try to sit in the front?
Batiste: Well, I always went to the back until 1963.
Jenkins: Wasn't that after 1953 when the ordinance had already changed the seating requirements on the buses?
Batiste: Yes, but down here you still had to ride the back of the bus. I remember when I first got on the bus I sat on the front of the bus, excuse me for not saying that at first, and then they told me I couldn't sit there they did not allow Blacks to sit in front of the bus and that was my first time ever riding the bus and I was about 12 years old. I was going to Romano's. That's when I first felt bad about it because they told me that a black man couldn't sit at the front of the bus and I had to sit at the back and I was 11 or 12 years old I don't know. But, this was after the thing of free ride anywhere you wanted...when I first rode the city bus.
Jenkins: What thoughts went through your head while riding the segregated bus.
Batiste: Well as I got older I understood why I had to ride the back of the bus and they had to ride the front of the bus. They really didn't want you to get on in the front of the bus. They only reason why you had to get on the front of the bus was because the meter was up there if the meter was in the middle of the bus, the Black people would have to get on the middle of the bus and once you got on the bus you couldn't come back to the front door to get off you had to get off at the middle door. That's what was told to me. I didn't like it.
Jenkins: Do you remember other ways Blacks people were treated?
Batiste: Back then you go to certain places they had White only on the water fountain and in the back you would see they had black. In the restaurant, in Picadilly on Third street they had White in the front and Black in the back and like in McCory Black people had to go down stairs to eat and Whites ate up stairs and that's the way, you know. It made me feel awful to see these things happening as I grew older and you know because every where we went, every where a Black man went or a Black young teenager went he had to take second steps to everything like I remember back in 1954 when we were living in Rugon, Louisiana outside New Roads. They had the Blacks people set up stairs..excuse me for laughing HA! HA! but the white people would sit down stairs and we use to throw things at them HA! HA! excuse me but I will be true as I can get but I didn't understand prejudice then I did not start to understand prejudice until I was like 14 years old and really I learned it from the White people you know prejudice. And about the buses, Scotland buses had a different bus line.
They wouldn't drive to to Scottlandville to deliver us. North Street, I believe, was the farthest then they would go, down Plank Road, all the way up to Airline and back over to Evangeline. I believe Hollywood and out there by Earl K. Long, and Fairfield. I remember riding the back of the bus all the way out there by Fairfield.
Jenkins: What events lead up to the Baton Rouge bus boycott?
Batiste: Well, it is kind of hard for me to remember sone of it but we didn't want to ride the back of the bus any more and the word did not get around like it gets aaround now days. Like the lady the first Black lady who rode the front of the bus. We didn't hear bout that til way late it was like '58 '59 when we heard about that or '60 when we heard about the Black lady who rode in the front of the bus. The White people use to keep things from the Black man back then. Now, I am going to skip up a couple of years, til when I was about 16 or 15 years old when we would pickett a place or botcott a place on the sidewalk. We had our signs they would say...'unfair to Blacks'. We would be trying to get Black cashiers into a store where we buy our groceries from. We would pickett on the premise, on the sidewalk. We would get arrested becauase we would be on their property. But, all the other while, they didn't make no difference. But when we started to pickett then they filed a law suit like a over night law to put us in jail or make us move over. That the way we had to do. Julius Bond was one of the guys that I learned how to take the word nigger from. Because he would talk to us and when a White man called us a negger he taught us how to just smile at him when you were on a pickett line.
Jenkins: Can you tell us more about incidents when you all were on pickett lines?
Batiste: Well you know we would walk up and down the line saying 'Hire Blacks'. We would have a another sign saying Why Would We Want to do Business When We Don't Have a Black Cashier. They had White people serving but they didn't have Black people serving. This is where we would pickett and people would pass by and throw rotten eggs at us, bottles at us, we would be ducking and we wave at them and throw kisses at them and they'll get mad HA! HA!
Jenkins: Do you remember the years?
Batiste: It was like '62 '63 '64 the last time I was in a protest was in '64 and that was it. Like I said about the bus, old people use to get on the bus and sometimes them old Black ladies be done worked all day, back then I would say in the White man house, which I didn't like for the Black woman to work in any way. They would get on the bus I would get up and give them my seat and then like other young black men or older Black men they would get and give them their seat and that is what we use to do but we couldn't sit on the front and I didn't like that because I did not feel that was right but that was the way we were treated in Louisiana.
Jenkins: What events made you scared?
Batiste: Really none, I have been shot at, ducked bricks and I really wasn't scared. It might seem funny to you but I just never was afraid. You know like they would jump out the cars you know while we were on the pickett line to have a fight with them and you'll back away. They thought we were scared but we weren't scared because if it was a fight I was ready for it but I had got trained not to fight, not to argue just get out the way, protect ourselves and back on out the way from them and if possible the police. You know they gave you some protection at that time. Sometime you would get hit but it was never a moment I was really scared. Once, a White guy stuck a gun out the window and we ducked but I was young. I was 16 years old. Fear what? I didn't fear anything because that is how my daddy always raised me. My daddy raised me not to fear anything because when you fear something that is when you get hurt, that's what he always told me. He'll say "son never fear anything because when you fear something that's when you get hurt."
Jenkins: What other ways to you think desegregation could have been accomplished?
Batiste: Well the only thing I say is the way it happened you know pressure, picketting, boycotting that's the way it happened. That's about the only way it could have happened. When you put pressure on a pipe it bursts, so we had to put pressure where pressure was due. If National was not hiring Black people we had to put pressure on. I think what we had to do we did it and I would do it again. They did it right, I believe, they did it right. You know, the way they did it cause we had to do it that way using pressure like I was saying pressure can burst a pipe.
Jenkins: Thank you Mr. Batiste.