Local Woman Blazes Civil Rights Trail

Officials say without Fleming there would be no Parks


By Monique Williams

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) -- As the Nation's Capitol immortalizes civil rights icon Rosa Parks in bronze, leaders in the Capitol City want it known a Midlands woman paved the way for Parks and others who would follow in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement.

Eastover's Sara Mae Fleming's story is similar to that of what happened to Rosa Parks on a segregated city bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. What happened to Fleming on a segregated city bus in Columbia, South Carolina, set a precedent for Parks and others who would follow.

"Her court case took place 17 months prior to Rosa Parks," said Ramon Jackson with the Historic Columbia Foundation.

Fleming's harrowing experience on that bus at the corner of Washington and Main Streets, and the court appeal case that would follow, would give attorneys for Rosa Parks legs to stand on when it came time to defend their client.

Fleming, who was a domestic worker, boarded a city bus at the corner of Main and Taylor Streets. Officials say she took a seat in a section designated for whites only. She was instructed to exit the bus at the corner of Washington and Main Streets.

"The bus driver reacts angrily, strikes her in the stomach as she attempts to leave the bus, per the driver's order," says Jackson. She sues the city of Columbia and SCE&G because she felt her 14th amendment rights had been violated."

She lost initially but won out of court, on an appeal.

It helped to rewrite the history books and South Carolina's place in them.

To ensure Fleming's contribution to the civil rights movement is not forgotten, talks are in the works to name the bus transit station at Laurel and Sumter Streets in her honor.

For a list of events set to take place this weekend to commemorate Black History Month and a year-long initiative to uncover hidden treasures of the Palmetto State's civil rights movement, called Columbia63: Our Story Matters, go to www.columbiasc1963.com.

To raise awareness and understanding of a truly pivotal chapter in American history, Columbia, South Carolina, has joined several other Southeastern cities to commemorate 50 years since the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Comprising a diverse coalition of community leaders, educators, students, residents and others, Columbia SC 63 will explore remarkable accounts of strength, determination and sacrifice that define how and why “Our Story Matters” – historically and for the future – to South Carolina and to our nation.
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