Author shares story of family’s role in Montgomery bus boycotts

Tray Ling

This month, Hearst Television is celebrating Black history by having courageous conversations. The fight for civil rights and justice goes back generations and has looked different each decade. We’re speaking with community leaders, elders – those who have lived through victories and troubled times, to talk about their experiences, and […]

This month, Hearst Television is celebrating Black history by having courageous conversations. The fight for civil rights and justice goes back generations and has looked different each decade. We’re speaking with community leaders, elders – those who have lived through victories and troubled times, to talk about their experiences, and compare them with what we still struggle with today.Karen Gray Houston was a little girl when her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, became a focal point in the civil rights movement of the 1950s.One day, her mother dressed Houston and her brothers in their “Sunday best” attire to go on a bus ride to sit with children in the front of the bus.Little did Houston know that the seat was something her family helped fight for — and planned from inside her family home.Houston talked with Hearst Television about the role her family played in the historic Montgomery bus boycott and what she’s doing to honor some unsung heroes of the time.Houston’s father and uncle were leaders of that protest.“It was the protest that really kickstarted the civil rights movement,” she said. “It was the first direct, mass action protests.”Her father — the late Judge Thomas Gray — was a boycott organizer.Her uncle was Fred Gray — a renowned civil rights lawyer of the time.“He represented Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and a young teenage girl named Claudette Colvin, who was also involved in the movement,” Houston said.Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus — nine months before Parks did the same thing.But it was Parks’ arrest that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, which led to the integration of the city’s bus system.“What happened in 1955 gave a lot of Black people courage to engage in some other movements that made a difference in history,” Houston said.At 4 years old at the time, Houston said she was too young to fully grasp the magnitude of her family’s efforts.“My family wove a little cocoon around me and my two brothers — Tommy and Freddy,” Houston said. “They didn’t want us to have to see the ugliness that they were confronting.”Decades later, Houston, a retired television journalist, documented the role her family played in the historic push for change in her book, “Daughter of the Boycott: Carrying On a Montgomery Family’s Civil Rights Legacy.”“I discovered lots of stories about unsung heroes and heroines — stories that people didn’t know about (and) stories that are missing in the pages of history,” she said.She documented stories from the past that are just as relevant today.“Here’s what fascinated me: The fact that my book came out in the spring of 2020 when the country had erupted in all this social protest,” Houston said of the demonstrations that stemmed from George Floyd’s death and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This month, Hearst Television is celebrating Black history by having courageous conversations. The fight for civil rights and justice goes back generations and has looked different each decade. We’re speaking with community leaders, elders – those who have lived through victories and troubled times, to talk about their experiences, and compare them with what we still struggle with today.

Karen Gray Houston was a little girl when her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, became a focal point in the civil rights movement of the 1950s.

One day, her mother dressed Houston and her brothers in their “Sunday best” attire to go on a bus ride to sit with children in the front of the bus.

Little did Houston know that the seat was something her family helped fight for — and planned from inside her family home.

Houston talked with Hearst Television about the role her family played in the historic Montgomery bus boycott and what she’s doing to honor some unsung heroes of the time.

Houston’s father and uncle were leaders of that protest.

“It was the protest that really kickstarted the civil rights movement,” she said. “It was the first direct, mass action protests.”

Her father — the late Judge Thomas Gray — was a boycott organizer.

Her uncle was Fred Gray — a renowned civil rights lawyer of the time.

“He represented Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and a young teenage girl named Claudette Colvin, who was also involved in the movement,” Houston said.

Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus — nine months before Parks did the same thing.

But it was Parks’ arrest that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, which led to the integration of the city’s bus system.

“What happened in 1955 gave a lot of Black people courage to engage in some other movements that made a difference in history,” Houston said.

At 4 years old at the time, Houston said she was too young to fully grasp the magnitude of her family’s efforts.

“My family wove a little cocoon around me and my two brothers — Tommy and Freddy,” Houston said. “They didn’t want us to have to see the ugliness that they were confronting.”

Decades later, Houston, a retired television journalist, documented the role her family played in the historic push for change in her book, “Daughter of the Boycott: Carrying On a Montgomery Family’s Civil Rights Legacy.”

“I discovered lots of stories about unsung heroes and heroines — stories that people didn’t know about (and) stories that are missing in the pages of history,” she said.

She documented stories from the past that are just as relevant today.

“Here’s what fascinated me: The fact that my book came out in the spring of 2020 when the country had erupted in all this social protest,” Houston said of the demonstrations that stemmed from George Floyd’s death and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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