Excerpts from 1995 Interview:
"Invariably I would see buses going down into South Baton Rouge. And on those buses were maids and cooks and so forth who had come from the white area of Goodwood and other areas. The maids, who had cooked for whites were not able to sit down. And of course, there were only blacks down there, and the whites who were living in South Baton Rouge were those whites who had businesses such as grocery stores and what have you, and were making a living off of blacks. I thought it was terrible that they could work all day for white folks and couldn't sit down on the bus..."
On a February day in 1953, Reverend Jemison was standing in front of his church on East Boulevard and observed the buses as they passed by. He noticed that the buses were filled with black people, and many of them were standing. There were no white people on the bus at that time, so there were empty seats at the front of the bus. He thought this was terrible, particularly since no white people lived in South Baton Rouge. He felt if the local residents paid fifteen cents for the bus ticket, they should be able to sit in the vacant seats. So Rev. Jemison decided to go to the Baton Rouge City Council and talk to them about changing the bus seating rule.
"I watched women who had cooked and cleaned in houses of white folks off of Goodwood all day having to stand up on the long bus ride home."
Because of Reverend Jemison's action, the City Council passed Ordinance 222, which allowed blacks to fill up the bus from the back to the front and whites from the front to back. Seating in this order would be on a first-come, first-served basis.
Reverend Jemison kept a copy of the Ordinance in his pocket at all times. One day when while he was out driving, he noticed a policeman had stopped a bus on Goodwood Avenue. The bus driver had called the police to report that there were black people sitting in the vacant seats which he claimed were reserved for whites. The driver had stopped the bus to make the black women get off. There were people standing around the bus when Reverend Jemison walked up and reminded the driver about Ordinance 222. Reverend Jemison pulled out the Ordinance from his front pocket and showed it to the policeman and the bus driver. But the driver still would not allow the ejected people to sit on the bus. Reverend Jemison told the black people to sit down on the bus. The policeman then told the Reverend that he would have to arrest him for interfering with official business. Reverend Jemison said told the policeman to do what he had to do, but as pastor to several people on this bus, it was his job to take care of his people. The policeman called downtown to let the Sergeant at the desk know that he was going to arrest Jemison, but the Sergeant told the policeman that if he arrested him, he'd better not bring him to the station.
When the bus driver still would not drive, Mr. J. D. Cauthen, the bus manager, came to see what was the problem. Reverend Jemison told the bus manager to ask the driver to comply with Ordinance 222. The manager told the driver to drive, but he still would not do it. Reverend Jemison then told the manager if the driver would not listen to his boss, perhaps he should suspend or fire him. The manager was now on the spot, so he suspended the bus driver for a month without pay. Once the other bus drivers found this out, they all went on strike the next morning. The strike lasted four days. In response, Reverend Jemison asked the black community not to ride the bus in protest, so they did not ride the bus for eight days, in what became know as the Baton Rouge Buss Boycott. After the boycott ended, Reverend Jemison heard that another woman had been arrested for riding in the front of the bus, so the Reverend went downtown and took a seat on this one particular bus. He sat down in a seat that before the Ordinance, he would not have been allowed to use. A policeman came and told the Reverend that if he did not get out of the seat he would arrest him. The Reverend told the policeman that if he was arrested, he would gladly go with him, but he would sue the policeman for wrongful arrest. At this, the Police Sergeant came out and told his officer to go in and read the statute. Reverend Jemison advised, "Ignorance is no excuse for [disregarding] the law." From that point on, the bus drivers drove the buses.