By Jannell McGrew
The large room was filled with white light and bustled with the voices of familiar friends.
They came up to her one by one, hugging her, shaking her hand, telling her about their latest endeavors, wishing her well.
“Good morning, Mrs. Carr,” they shout from across the room, moving like anxious youngster to a mother figure. She smiled back, and greeted them as if they were her own children.
This room was full with people of all backgrounds: blacks, whites, young, older. It’s just the way Johnnie Carr likes it. It’s what she and others fought for nearly 50 years ago.
Carr worked with the NAACP and later with the Montgomery Improvement Association (the organization that spearheaded the 381-day bus boycott).
She vividly remembers a time when the diversity of the room wasn’t possible, wasn’t acceptable and was even dangerous.
She’s 94 years old now, but she can still summon the memories of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott with ease. She has told the stories so many times now, she said, but she never grows weary of sharing her experiences.
“When you know that you’re doing something that means something, you don’t get tired of it,” she said.
She and Rosa Parks were childhood friends, meeting for the very first time at “Miss White’s School,” which was run by a woman who came from the North to teach young black girls.
Carr recalled Parks as being such a quiet young girl.
She was proud that her friend did not back down from the bus driver.
When he yelled for her to get up or he would call he police, she said, ‘You may do so,’” Carr said.
The times were dark back then, and the partition between the races was overt and legal.
“Everything you had was segregated,” Carr said, “and we were discriminated against. We had a rough time.”
She scoffs at the thought of “separate but equal,” a term often used by segregationists to validate separatist views.
The truth was, Carr said, “It was very much separate, but never equal.”
“We had so many things that we were denied the opportunity and the privilege to enjoy.”
Carr lives on Hall Street in Montgomery, and she recalls the park across from her home. She couldn’t take her children there, just steps away from her front door, because it was off limits: unless you were a maid taking a white child there to play, Carr recalled, a black woman could not enter.
Then there were the buses and the mistreatment of blacks on the city’s main mode of transportation.
“Whatever transport you had, it was segregated,” Carr said, recalling the treatment.
If you were black, you had to give the driver your money, then get back off the bus, walk around it to the back. You couldn’t just get on through the front and walk through to the back. That route was for whites only.
Sometimes, after a black rider had paid his or her fare, she said: “He (the bus driver) would drive off and leave them standing.”
Then there was the humiliation of being ordered to get up from a seat when a white person needed a place to sit.
Although it was deemed the “black” section of the bus, Carr said, when the bus was filled and a white passenger boarded and needed to sit, blacks were ordered to clear an entire seat to let one white bus rider sit down.
Most blacks obliged because it was the law.
“You tried to be a law-abiding citizen because you didn’t want to be put in jail,” Carr said.
But the day came when things would be turned around.
That day came when Carr’s childhood friend Rosa Parks was arrested.
E.D. Nixon, often called the father of the civil rights movement, called Carr and told her the news.
Carr says she’ll never forget the words of Nixon when he called her that day, the day the movement shifted: “He told me, ‘Mrs. Carr, they have arrested the wrong woman now.’”