CHICAGO-- During this black history month, we want to tell you about one of the living legends of the civil rights movement – who lives right here in the Chicago area.
Reverend J.C. Smith had a front row seat to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and now he’s sharing his amazing story.
It’s been 60 years, but the memories of the Montgomery Bus Boycott are still very vivid, for Reverend J.C. Smith.
The Montgomery, Alabama native found himself in the middle of one of the pivotal events in the civil rights movement.
Most have heard the story of Rosa Parks, the tired seamstress who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man one cold December night in 1955.
She was arrested, and the boycott began. It brought public transportation to a halt.
And a young JC Smith, who had a brand new car, felt the need to get involved.
"I was fortunate at that time to have a car so they suggested to us, if you have transportation, than give someone a ride.”
He took that car and joined a carpool system set up to take people to and from work, school, and anywhere they need to go around the city.
"There was thousands of people who did that. And that’s really, really what made the movement successful.”
Smith was eventually arrested, caught while spinning his wheels on wet pavement. He spent one night in jail.
"I knew i hadn’t done anything. I knew if I went before the jury they would have no case.”
It was soon after that a young preacher from Atlanta Georgia came to town.
His name– Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.
He’s run weekly meetings at the Holt Street church. The beginnings of what would turn into the civil rights movement.
"You would just be carried away to listen to him speak. And as a result of that, people came every week for a whole year. It was impressive."
Racial tension continued to grow in Montgomery.
Smith remembers how the Ku Klux Klan would target their peaceful gatherings, memories crystal clear in the 84-year-old’s mind.
"We were shut up in the church all night because Dr. King said don’t leave, because the KKK surrounded the church on the outside. And it was dangerous.
“If you didn’t see it, you wouldn’t believe it.”
In 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the segregated seating laws on public buses. On December 20th Dr. King called for an end to the bus boycott. The community agreed.
"A large group of us came together in downtown in Montgomery and boarded the buses and we sat as close to the front as we could get.
"It felt great. I didn’t know it felt so good sitting up there.”
It was his experience from that era that led rev smith to build Bethlehem Temple Church in south suburban Harvey. A church where he’s been preaching from the pulpit on and off for over 50 years.
Helping others to achieve their dreams. Something that has set quite an example for his huge family.
Jeffery Smith: “Had he not done what he has done, I wouldn’t be able to have achieved or done some of the things that I’ve. Some of those sacrifices that were made were very significant for me.”
Reverend Smith’s actions back in Montgomery may have seemed small back then, but in the scheme of history, it’s huge.
Jeffery Smith: “It’s important for that story to be told. There’s a living legend still here with us.
Reverend J.C. Smith, Junior
He’s one of Chicago’s very own.