- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

Roanoke act preceded Parks’

ROANOKE — Nearly a decade before Rosa Parks took her stand against the injustice and indignity of segregation, Roanoke’s Margie Jumper took hers.

Mrs. Jumper’s public act of defiance wasn’t on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus but on a streetcar near downtown Roanoke. Like Mrs. Parks, she would not surrender her seat to a white man.

“I refused to get up,” Mrs. Jumper, now 91, said last week of the incident that happened nearly 60 years ago. “I felt like I had the right to sit anywhere anyone else did.”

Mrs. Parks’ death Monday gave Americans reason to reflect upon her achievements.

By refusing to surrender her seat in December 1955, Mrs. Parks helped change the legal system and forced the country to apply its founding principles to every citizen. It also earned her the title “the mother of the modern civil rights movement.”

However, Mrs. Jumper and many others also undertook quiet and purposeful acts against segregation.

Inside the Roanoke County nursing home where she lives, Mrs. Jumper said she never met Mrs. Parks but thinks they shared a common determination. “No need of letting folks do you wrong,” said Mrs. Jumper, a small, bespectacled widow and retired domestic worker.

Mrs. Jumper, who was born in Martinsville, Va., and moved to Roanoke as a young woman, said she distinctly remembers her streetcar ride occurred on a Sunday. However, her best recollection is that the year was 1946.

A city ordinance stated that black and white passengers could not sit together, and whites sat in the front. Mrs. Jumper recalled the streetcar being almost full so she took the first seat she saw.

“They had those big long seats in the back,” she said. “That’s where they wanted us.”

The vacant seat she had occupied was at about the middle of the streetcar. She recalled being in the car for about 10 minutes when a white man entered and asked the conductor to make Mrs. Jumper move.

“It wasn’t right, and I had the right to sit there,” she said.

The police arrested Mrs. Jumper after she declined to give her name or other information. She pleaded guilty to violating a city ordinance, paid a small fine and the incident was largely forgotten.

But in 2003, the Roanoke chapter of the NAACP remembered Mrs. Jumper by honoring her with the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson Memorial Award for Social Justice.

“She’s very strong, very determined,” said Teresa Brandon, who has known Mrs. Jumper since 1976 and is now her caregiver. “Only thing I know is she demands respect.”

Mrs. Jumpers’ husband, Clarence, died in 1986. She remained in their home until last year.

The couple had one adopted daughter, Catherine, who died 16 years ago, Mrs. Brandon said. Mrs. Jumper is one of six children, including a surviving sister, who is a retired teacher in Connecticut.

Mrs. Jumper still remembers hearing the news that Mrs. Parks had been arrested.

“Maybe she heard about me,” Mrs. Jumper said light-heartedly before turning serious. “You have to do what you know is right.”

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