Sarah Mae Flemming (second from left) is joined by attorneys Lincoln C. Jenkins and Matthew J. Perry. Julia Elizabeth King, who testified on Flemming’s behalf, stands next to her. The photograph was taken by John W. Goodwin, a Columbia area photographer. (Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library )
Sarah Mae Flemming and the Integration of Public Transportation
On June 22, 1954, Sarah Mae Flemming, a 20-year-old African American native of Lower Richland County, boarded a public bus operated by South Carolina Electric and Gas Company (SCE&G). When a seat became available near the “whites only” section, Flemming sat down. After the bus driver ordered Flemming to move toward the rear of the bus, she attempted to depart from the front door, but the driver struck her in the abdomen. Injured, Flemming left the bus at the corner of Main and Washington Streets. With the aid of Civil Rights pioneer Modjeska Simkins and the NAACP, Flemming filed a lawsuit.
On July 14, 1955, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the principle applied to schools in the Brown v. Board decision could be expanded to public transportation. Flemming’s heroic actions desegregated Columbia’s city buses and provided an important legal precedent for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, inspired by the arrest of Rosa Parks.