Houston woman refused to give up her train seat in 1955

Image 1 of 2

Chances are you've heard of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus, but did you ever hear about what a Houston woman did right after that?

In 1955 no one was Tweeting or posting to Facebook so news did not travel quickly.  When 21-year-old Houstonian GertrudeJane Holliday Stone refused to give up her seat on a train, she didn't know Parks had just done the same on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

"I had no idea it would turn into a train ride from H-E-L-L,” explains Stone.  It was December 1955.  Stone was a Senior at Fisk University.  She took a seat on a train in Nashville, TN heading home to Houston for the holidays.

“I had a friend with me and we were just happily talking.”  Then the train conductor came over.  “He said you have to move, you have to move to the Jim Crow coach in the back of the train.”

But the girls remained seated on the segregated train.  “How long is this going to keep going on that one race is just treating another one badly?  How much longer?” Stone says she asked herself.  

An article written in the newspaper in 1956 explains how train employees hollered and demanded the girls get up but the students stayed.  The train was even stopped so a police officer could board and make them move.  Then Mrs. Stone's friend was threatened.  Her dad who worked for the railroad would be fired unless she got up.

“She said I'm going to have to move because my dad cannot lose his job over this and I told her I understood”.

Stone kept her seat even as the men took all of her belongings.  As the college student sat alone with several men taunting her she says she thought about the times she moved when an officer ordered her to give up her parking space, and she thought about the brutal beating death of 14-year-old Emmett Till earlier in the year.

”You get to a point where you say enough is enough.  If not me then who?  If not now, then when?”.

The now 82-year-old says she kept her seat because in her words God was by her side.  ”Oh I know He was.  I know He was”.

Stone went on to become the first black salesperson at Pomeroy's department store.  ”I sold perfume.  I sold jewelry.”

She was the first black to chair the Houston Public Library Board, appointed by Mayor Fred Hofheinz and she owns Houston's National African American Museum.

As you now blaze your trail, this long time leader hopes you'll do one thing, something to make this world better.

”In the words of Horace Mann, ‘Refuse to die until you've done something for humanity' and there's still a lot to do.”

To find out more about Mrs. Stone visit www.thenationalafricanamericanmuseum.com.