“The bus driver got angry and tried to run me off the road and into a ditch,” Times said at an event at the Rosa Parks Museum in 2017.
When they pulled over and got out of their vehicles, Blake berated Times, saying she was “a Black son of b----.” Times did not back down to the man who nearly killed her, she recalled in an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser in 2005, instead calling him “a White son of b----.”
The argument soon turned physical between the two, and the altercation was broken up by police in Montgomery, Ala. Times was not arrested but said one of the officers told her he would have “beat my head to jelly” if she were a man.
“My blood was almost boiling,” she told the newspaper. “I didn’t even take my clothes into the dry cleaners.”
She knew something had to be done when Blake’s employer did not return her calls demanding he be punished. The next day, Times said, she helped jump-start what became the Montgomery bus boycott, a protest aiming to end segregation in the city’s public transit system that was a foundational event of the civil rights movement.
Times — an underappreciated civil rights pioneer for her roles in the bus boycott and voting rights march in Montgomery — died Monday at age 100, her family told local media. A cause of death was not immediately known. She had suffered a stroke a few years back that had limited her ability to speak.
Her role in fighting segregation in Alabama reflected a “remarkable, but undiscovered piece of history” that was unknown to many nationwide, said Troy King, a former Alabama attorney general and a friend of Times.
“She was this larger-than-life giant of the civil rights movement who was living in obscurity,” King told The Washington Post.
Times’s life and courage in Montgomery speaks to the many Black women during the civil rights movement who faced constant abuse from White people of privilege and power, Felicia Bell, director of public engagement for the Smithsonian Institution’s Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past, an initiative that encourages dialogue on the history of race and racism in the United States, told The Post.
“She was another reminder of that struggle,” said Bell, who noted that she was not speaking on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution. “What she went through makes you appreciate her and the many other women like her.”
Born in April 1921, in Montgomery County, Times was one of seven children raised by her father after her mother died when she was young. She attended schools in Montgomery before moving to Michigan and Chicago. Times attended Alabama State College and Huntingdon College, and eventually earned certificates in licensed-practice nursing and mortuary science, according to a collection on Times’s life compiled by Trenholm State Community College.
She married her husband, Charlie, on Feb. 3, 1939. He would go on to serve in World War II. Though the couple had no kids, they helped raise 25 children of relatives and owned and operated a cafe for decades. Times Café was known as a hub for civil rights activity during the movement and was sometimes affectionately called “Sugar Hill.” She told King the leaders of the moment, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., used to gather there.
The couple’s lives changed when they joined the NAACP shortly after they were married. When the organization was eventually outlawed in Alabama in the 1950s, the couple held NAACP meetings in their home.
In 1955, after she told her husband of how Blake tried to run her off the road, they agreed to contact E.D. Nixon, then-president of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.
“I told Mr. Nixon what happened and told him we should boycott the buses,” she said. But she said Nixon encouraged her to wait, saying the right moment would be when something happened on a bus — not outside of one.
Times didn’t wait to begin her movement. As Nixon raised money funds for gas and vehicles for a future bus boycott, Times started immediately.
She began shuttling bus riders from stations to their destinations. She gave people her home phone number and the cafe line, she told the Advertiser, to call when they needed a lift.
When the Montgomery bus boycott officially started months later, tens of thousands of Black bus riders joined the cause. She’d later learn that the bus driver who had Parks arrested Dec. 1, 1955, after she refused to get up for a White man was the same man who had tried to run Times off the road.
In 1965, Times marched all 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery during the march for voting rights. She housed 18 marchers from around the country in her home during and afterward.
Though her name has not risen to the level of fame of Parks’s, Times’s story has gained recognition in recent years. Her South Holt Street home is distinguished by a historical marker that tells the story of her and her late husband’s work during the civil rights movement. The recently-opened Nixon Times Community Garden in Montgomery bears her name, and a photo of her hangs outside.
King, the former Republican attorney general, posted a video of Times in 2017 that garnered 1.2 million views on Facebook and sparked renewed interest in her life.
“It’s how you treat people,” she said in the clip. “Just be nice — be you. Stay who you are. I love you for being who you are.”
Troy University, which hosted an event with Times, released a statement remembering her and her contributions to the institution’s Rosa Parks Museum.
“We know that her legacy will live on, and we are pleased that the museum, in a small way, can continue to share her story, as well as the stories of so many women who were critical to the Boycott and the civil rights movement,” Vice Chancellor Ray White said.
A public viewing for Times will be held Saturday in Montgomery and her funeral is set for Sunday. Though Times has passed, her fight for justice is not over.
“Losing a civil rights activist such a Mrs. Times, while it is devastating and painful, we hope that young people today are inspired by these civil rights activists and foot soldiers,” Bell said. “We hope they have learned lessons from them and their legacy of resistance and resilience.
“We hope they can carry on.”