March 21, 2002, Montgomery, Alabama, United States
Mary Louise Smith (civil rights activist), E. D. Nixon, Clifford Durr
Civil Rights Movement - Rosa Parks. Interview with James Blake
- Civil Rights Movement Rosa Parks Interview with James Blake
- Early life
- Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin
Blake was drafted into the Army in December 23, 1943. He was enlisted and sworn in at Ft. McClellan, Alabama. His enlistment record states he was married and had attended 1 year of high school. Blake also had previous experience in chauffeuring, truck, and tractor driving. He served for five years in active duty during the European theatre during World War II.
He worked as a bus driver for Montgomery City Bus Lines until 1974. After he retired, he became a member of The Morningview Baptist church. The children's pastor, Kem Holley, commented on his passing: "Mr. Blake was a kind and gracious man, always had a smile on his face and always loved everybody. She also remarked that, "I know that a lot of people make a big deal out of [Parks' arrest], but Mr. Blake grew with the times, and he loved everybody.""
Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin
Previous to Rosa Parks' arrest, a young woman by the name of Claudette Colvin was likewise arrested for not giving her seat up for a white passenger. Montgomery's black leaders were preparing to make a case against racial discrimination, but it was discovered that Colvin was in fact pregnant. She was deemed unfit to be used as a figurehead in the eventual Civil Rights Movement, giving room for Rosa Parks to be the pinnacle and central case against Alabama's Jim Crow laws and eventual bus boycotting.
Twelve years prior to the 1955 incident, on her way to register to vote, Parks boarded a bus driven by Blake. She entered the front door of the bus and paid her fare. As she continued on to take a seat, Blake told her to disembark and enter the bus again from the back door, a rule imposed by some drivers that was sometimes followed by the bus leaving before they could get back on. She got off and waited for the next bus, swearing to herself she would never ride with Blake again (though she forgot to check who was driving 12 years later).
Twelve years later, they encountered each other again on December 1, 1955, when Blake ordered Rosa Parks and three other black people to move from the middle to the back of his Cleveland Avenue bus (number 2857) in order to make room for a white male passenger. By Parks' account, Blake said, "Y'all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats." When she refused, Blake first contacted the bus company and called his boss remarking, "I called the company first, just like I was supposed to do," Blake recalled in a later interview with the Washington Post. "I got my supervisor on the line. He said, 'Did you warn her, Jim?' I said, 'I warned her.' And he said, and I remember it just like I'm standing here, 'Well then, Jim, you do it, you got to exercise your powers and put her off, hear?' And that's just what I did."
Parks, after being arrested, was fined $10 and $4 in court fees. Later, Blake contacted the police and signed the warrant for her arrest. Chapter 6, Section 11, of the city code gave drivers police powers for the racial assignment of seats. The arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and led to Browder v. Gayle, the 1956 court case on the basis of which a United States District Court abolished segregation in transportation for the jurisdiction in which Montgomery, Alabama is located.
Commenting on the event afterwards, Blake stated, "I wasn't trying to do anything to that Parks woman except do my job. She was in violation of the city codes, so what was I supposed to do? That damn bus was full and she wouldn't move back. I had my orders. I had police powers—any driver for the city did. So the bus filled up and a white man got on, and she had his seat and I told her to move back, and she wouldn't do it."
Blake continued working at the bus company (the Montgomery City Lines) for another 19 years. He died of a heart attack in his Montgomery home in 2002, less than a month before his 90th birthday. He and his wife had been married for 68 years. Actor Sonny Shroyer portrayed Blake in the 2002 made-for-television movie The Rosa Parks Story. Commenting on his death, Rosa Parks said, "[I'm] sure his family will miss him."