BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – The Rev. T. J. Jemison, a longtime Louisiana pastor and civil rights leader, has died. He was 95. Jemison’s son, Ted Jemison, told The Associated Press that his father died Friday evening of natural causes at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
Ted Jemison said his father was a longtime pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., and helped organize the Baton Rouge bus boycott in 1953.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sought his advice when organizing the famous bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., two years later, Ted Jemison said.
One thing King wanted to know was how the leaders of the Baton Rouge boycott arranged carpool rides for blacks so they could avoid using the buses, Ted Jemison recalled.
King wrote about T.J. Jemison in his book, Stride Toward Freedom. When King became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, T.J. Jemison was the organization’s first secretary, his son said.
“He came up in a time when there was overt racism, but he always preached togetherness. He also believed that everybody deserves a fair share. I think that’s one of the greatest things about him. He never changed his tune. He believed in a man’s worth, regardless of skin color,” Ted Jemison said Saturday in a telephone interview.
Ted Jemison said his father also was a kind and giving man. “He made so many people happy by giving up what he had, personally, and he enjoyed doing that,” the son said.
T.J. Jemison also served as president of the National Black Convention, the largest black Baptists organization in the United States, and met with seven United States presidents during his lifetime, Ted Jemison said.
Todd Sterling, a trustee at Mount Zion First Baptist Church, said T.J. Jemison will be remembered as a “visionary leader.” “The world has lost an icon in the Baptist ministry and the civil rights arena,” Sterling told the AP. “He was a pioneer in race relations.”
The Advocate reports that Jemison was born in Selma, Ala., to a preacher father and became pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist, in 1949, a position he held for the next 54 years.
The Baton Rouge boycott is not as well-known as the one in Alabama, which Jemison attributed to its much shorter duration. Still, the boycott by black riders – aimed at protesting segregated seating on buses that relegated blacks to the back – got attention.
Seats in the front of Baton Rouge city buses were for white riders only. Even if those “white” seats were empty, black riders had to stand if seats set aside for them in the back of the bus were full.
In a 2003 newspaper story marking the boycott’s 50th anniversary, 84-year-old Freddie Green recalled sitting guard duty with a shotgun on Jemison’s front porch. Green remembered crosses burned in the minister’s yard and at the church.