Many of the women remained historical footnotes, which did not sit well with Thelma Glass, who was secretary of the Women’s Political Council and helped champion the boycott long before it happened. “The men talked about it, you know, but we were ready to take action,” Mrs. Glass told an Alabama State publication last year.
One of the last surviving core members of the women’s council, Mrs. Glass died July 24 at 96. The death, at a Montgomery hospital, was confirmed by a great-niece, Marcia Ivery Young. She did not provide a cause of death.
The women’s council, formed at Alabama State in 1946, included at its peak as many as 300 public school teachers, social workers, nurses and wives of black professionals in Montgomery.
Mrs. Glass joined the organization soon after she began teaching at Alabama State in 1947. Howard O. Robinson, the university archivist, called Mrs. Glass part of a “small cadre of women who were in front and the most active in the Women’s Political Council.”
She remained involved even when membership dwindled to four, Robinson said. Many abandoned the group amid intense political pressure against its efforts to enfranchise black voters (by providing help to pass the racist literacy tests required for voting). The key focus of the council was to end the humiliations inflicted on the tens of thousands of African Americans who rode the public buses.
Blacks were forced to stand even when seats were empty, and the buses stopped much less frequently in black neighborhoods than in white areas, Mrs. Glass later testified in court when the city tried to declare the boycott illegal. She added that drivers would often speed away between the time an African American paid his fare at the front door and was forced to enter through the rear door.
The Women’s Political Council, led by Alabama State English teacher Jo Ann Robinson, confronted the city commissioners with detailed information about drivers, dates and routes where problems recurred.
Robinson wrote in her memoir, “The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It” (1987), that Mrs. Glass and another colleague were “sharp, asked a deluge of questions and pressed the commissioners for answers.”
The privately owned company that ran the city bus lines made token efforts to mend its ways, but most drivers reverted to their old habits. Within days of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling against “separate but equal” public schools in 1954, the women’s council threatened city commissioners with a bus boycott and said it had the support of a consortium of black community leaders.