Long Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery AL., bus, on December 1st 1955, there was Margie Jumper, in Roanoke Va. The name is not widely known, there are no movies that tell her story, neither are there memorials in her honor. Her brave actions however, are non the less important, than those of well known civil rights pioneers.
Mrs Jumper was a good friend to my mother in law, Eloise Preston. They had both lived in what was called old North East Roanoke. This was the neighborhood where the majority of African Americans resided at the time. My grandmother told me that when she lived in the area, that whites referred to it as “tank town,” or the “ape yard”.
The tank reference was because of nearby Esso,(now Exxon) gasoline tanks. Ape yard was in regard to the black people living in the neighborhood. Such derogatory remarks were common in those days. My grandma also told me that the Botetourt County Va., area where I spent most of my childhood, was called “Nigger hill”.
I admired the fact that Mrs Jumper rode the city bus, and walked through town well into her 80’s. I once saw her exiting the city bus, and told her that I wanted to be as agile, when I was her age. She smiled and kept walking. I was later to learn that Margie Jumper was an inspiration for other reasons.
One Sunday, in the 1940’s,(the date is not recorded) Mrs Jumper, like many black women of the era had just finished her job as a domestic worker, in the Raleigh Court neighborhood of Roanoke. She boarded the trolley and took a seat.
When a white man came on board, and asked for her seat, Margie Jumper refused. The conductor brought the trolley to a stop, in downtown Roanoke on Campbell Avenue, because Mrs Jumper, had violated a city ordinance. At the time whites and blacks were prohibited from sitting together on public transportation.
Margie Jumper knew this law, but held her ground. The police were called, and when she refused to give up her seat, or reveal her name, Mrs Jumper was arrested. She sat in jail for hours until a black lawyer, who observed her, advised that she plead guilty and pay the fine.
In 1986, in an interview Mrs Jumper told the Roanoke Times that as far as local officials were concerned, she had broken the law, period. Nothing was done at that time to change it. Unlike with Rosa Parks, there was no city wide boycott.
Roanoke City Council however did repeal segregation on buses and trolleys in 1963. It was not because of Margie Jumper, or because council members had seen the light regarding segregation. It was done to comply with Federal law.
Margie Jumper was a lifetime member of the NAACP, and treasurer of the local branch. In 2003 she became one of the first recipients of the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson Memorial Award for Social Justice. Margie Jumper died at age 92 in 2009. The trolley service which was discontinued has recently been reinstated in the Downtown Roanoke area. It is too bad that Mrs Jumper was not able to take a ride.