In 2002 James F. Blake died of a heart attack in Montgomery, Alabama. He was 89 years old. Though his was not a household name, Blake unwittingly eventuated the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, a critical moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. Without any consideration of the history that would unfold from his actions, Blake was the driver who one otherwise unmemorable evening told Rosa Parks to move to the back of the bus. When she refused, he called the police.
By all accounts Blake lived an unexceptional life. A reportedly kind, god-fearing man, Blake served in North Africa and Europe during the Second World War, after which he worked as a bus driver until retiring in 1974. At the time of his death, he had been married to the same woman for 68 years. Until his dying day he steadfastly asserted he was only enforcing company policy. At best, Blake was a product of his time (and how the times did change over the course of his life).
The path to civil rights in the United States produced many leaders and many heroes, but in many ways ignominy is a far stranger thing than heroism. It’s important when reflecting on the past to remember that for all the heroes there are just as many who have been on the wrong side of history, whose entire existences have, in effect, been defined by a single moment.
James Hatch is the Publicity Assistant at Dundurn Press. For more information, please visit: jameshatch.ca