Joseph Echols Lowery oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, 2011-06-06.
And so, we chose one day to ride. We’d had workshops. We had people down from Fellowship of Reconciliation to lead workshops on how to conduct nonviolent demonstrations. And, uh, so we met that morning, and everybody cleansed themselves, purged themselves of weapons, and had prayer, and we took out on the bus route sitting in the front of the bus. And Reverend S.M. McCree, who was pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Mobile, was my partner, and we rode on the first [clears throat] seat that faced the front on the bus, [clears throat] going toward Pritchett. I think it was Number Five.
And, uh, not long before we got started, a fellow got on the bus with a sack in his hand, with, uh, obviously a bottle [laughs] in the sack, and he sat down on the little side seat right behind the driver. And at first he didn’t notice us, but as he experienced a sobering ride to Pritchett, uh, he recognized that here were two black people sitting on the front pew or seat. And so, he told the, uh, bus driver to make us move. And the bus driver said, “You just ride and leave the driving [laughs] to me.”
And he said, “By God, if you don’t make a move, I’ll make a move.” And so, he stood up. And there was our first opportunity to put into practice the, [10:00] the nonviolent tactics that we had learned in the workshop. And the bus driver, in the meantime, was pulling the bus over. He was going to intervene, I think. And, uh, I - Reverend McCree punched me with his arm, looked like he put his hand in his pocket. I said, “Uh-oh.” And anyway, the fellow kept coming.
I said, “Sir, please be seated.” I said, “It’s dangerous to stand up while the bus is moving. I know you don’t want to get hurt, and we don’t want to see you get hurt. You mean us no harm; we mean you no harm. Please sit down.” And, uh, everybody held their breath, not knowing what the reaction would be. And, believe it or not, he sat down, [laughs] and, uh, we were the most - two black preachers were probably the most surprised people on the bus. And in two more stops, he got up and got off the bus, slammed the door. He was very angry. He said something back to the bus driver. I don’t remember what he said.
Then we went on, rode on to Pritchett, to the end of the line, and there were some black people on the front. When we got off, uh, we mentioned to one of the ladies. She said, “Y’all are segregating the buses?” [Laughs] I said, “Yeah, we’re segregating the buses.” I said, “Aren’t you tired of having to ride in the back?” She said, “Yeah, I guess so.” She said, “But I’ve been back there so long, I’m not sure how I feel right now. But I’m glad y’all are doing it.” We said, “Thank you.”
And so, we caught another bus going back to town. That was the end of the, uh, the experience that was worth sharing in Mobile. But, uh, Mobile, uh, as I said, was racist, but the racism wasn’t as toxic.
JM: Let me take our, let me take our conversation toward Montgomery.