The Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority is launching an awareness campaign to recognize local civil rights pioneer Sarah Mae Flemming today.
The COMET will reserve a seat on the 85 buses in its fleet in honor of Flemming, and the Saving Sarah’s Seat campaign will run until Aug. 22.
Sixty-six years ago today, on June 22, 1954, Flemming, then a 20-year-old resident of Eastover, boarded a crowded city bus operated by S.C. Electric & Gas. The color line on the Columbia buses shifted with the number of Black and white riders, with Black riders required to sit behind white ones. That custom was enforced by bus drivers legally vested with the powers of a deputy sheriff.
When Flemming took a seat vacated by a white woman, the bus driver accused her of sitting in the whites-only section of the bus and ordered her to exit the bus via the rear door. The driver struck her to prevent her from exiting the front of the bus, according to historical accounts.
Seventeen months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., Flemming filed suit against SCE&G, challenging bus segregation in in the state.
The case was eventually heard by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down segregation in public transportation in July 1955. Flemming’s case laid the groundwork for the landmark Montgomery ruling in 1956.
The COMET also announced that it is providing essential employees with a $200 weekly bonus, to be distributed during a 10-week period. The bonus, paid for by federal pandemic relief fund, will be awarded to full-time staff whose duties could not be performed from home during the COVID-19 health crisis.o