Much of the writing on civil rights history in Montgomery has been about the arrest of Rosa Parks, a woman who defied segregation laws by refusing to give up her seat to a White passenger on a bus. Her move, on December 1, 1955, started the boycott that would help galvanize the civil rights movement. This furthered the cause of the organization for racial and economic equality in America.
But six months before Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, another woman, known as Lucille Times, got into a fight with the same bus driver. The driver, James Blake, tried to run Times off the road three times while she was driving to the dry cleaners on June 15, 1955.
“The bus driver got angry and tried to run me off the road and into a ditch,” Times recalled in a 2017 interview. She said while continuing on her errand in her Buick LeSabre, Blake followed her with his bus and then parked his bus across the street. He subsequently ran over to her and yelled, “You Black son of a bitch!” she recounted in the 2017 interview.
Times quickly replied Blake, “You white son of a bitch!” and the two started fighting. Police in Montgomery, Alabama intervened but one of the officers hit Times with his flashlight, she said. That officer told her: “‘Do you know that was a white man you called a white son of a bitch?’” Times recalled him saying. “I said, ‘Do you know I’m a Black woman that he called a Black son of a bitch?’”
Times was allowed to go but she said the officer warned her that if she had been a man, he would have “beat my head to jelly”.
Angry, with her “blood almost boiling”, Times said she drove away. She didn’t even take her clothes into the dry cleaners and headed straight home, where her husband, Charlie, had already heard about the incident. Times and Charlie called E.D. Nixon, the head of the local NAACP chapter, who came over to their home that evening to discuss what to do next.
Times, who had taken part in a boycott of a butcher shop in Detroit when she was young, told Nixon that Black people should boycott Mongtomery’s buses. Nixon was all for it but he felt the time was not right. He told Times that to boycott the city’s buses, they would need resources including money and cars to make that possible. Times, after the meeting with Nixon, called the city bus company to let them know what had happened to her with one of their drivers, but no one responded. She then sent letters to The Montgomery Advertiser and The Atlanta Journal, but they did not print them. She decided to take matters into her own hands by operating her own boycott.
For the next six months, she started driving to bus stops and giving free rides to Black passengers. At the time, she operated a cafe with her husband Charlie, who raised money for gas. Times gave people her home phone number and the cafe line to call when they needed a lift.
Then on December 1, 1955, Parks, a seamstress and activist, boarded Blake’s bus and sat in the front section reserved for White riders. When Blake ordered her to move to the back, she refused. She was arrested. Four days after her arrest, the Montgomery Improvement Association led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced a citywide boycott. Lasting over a year, the boycott would help lead to the end of segregation on the city’s public transportation.
Times, who took part in that boycott, died Monday, August 13, at age 100, her family said last week. Times, who had suffered a stroke a few years back, had the coronavirus, her family said.
“I mean, if it wasn’t for the COVID, I think she probably had another year left in her,” nephew Daniel Nichols said. “She was a pretty big fighter.”
Her role in boycotting segregated buses before the Montgomery Bus Boycott remained unrecognized until recently. Born Lucille Alicia Sharpe on April 22, 1921, in Hope Hull, a community outside Montgomery, her mother Jamie Sharpe died when she was young. So Times and her six siblings were raised by their father, Walter Sharpe. Times schooled in Montgomery before moving to Michigan and Chicago. She attended Alabama State College and Huntingdon College before earning certificates in licensed-practice nursing and mortuary science.
After her marriage to Charlie in 1939, he served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. When he came back home, they opened the Times Cafe and operated it for years while helping raise 25 children of relatives. Their cafe became a center for civil rights activity, where civil rights leaders including King met.
In 1956 when Alabama outlawed the NAACP, Times and her husband, as members of the organization, allowed their home to be used for secret meetings. They were also present at the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery while hosting 18 other marchers at their home. Charlie died in 1978. And even though Times didn’t get the same recognition as Parks did, in 2007, her house was placed on the Alabama Registry of Landmarks and Heritage. The state also placed historic markers in front of her home and the building that once housed the Times Cafe, according to The New York Times.
What’s more, the Nixon Times Community Garden in Montgomery, which was opened recently, is named for her, with a photo of her hanging outside. In April this year, Times’ neighbors organized a 100th birthday party for her, but she could not attend due to coronavirus.