Rev. Dr. T.J. Jemison Sr.
Rev. Jemison was a longtime Louisiana pastor, pioneering civil rights leader and founder of one of the nation’s most effective faith-based civil rights organizations. Theodore Judson Jemison was born in 1918 in Selma, Alabama where his father was the pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church. After attending local segregated schools, Jemison earned a bachelor’s degree from Alabama State University, a historically Black institution, where he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the same fraternity Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of. Jemison earned a divinity degree at Virginia Union University to prepare for the ministry, and later enrolled in graduate courses at New York University. In 1953, while serving as pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., a post he held for 54 years, Jemison helped lead the first civil rights boycott of segregated seating on public buses. The organization of free rides, coordinated by churches, was a model used later in 1955-1956 by the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama. Jemison was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Although the critical role Rev. Jemison played in laying the foundation for King’s successful boycott are still not widely known or celebrated, in 2003, the city of Baton Rouge commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Baton Rouge bus boycott. When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, T.J. Jemison was the organization’s first secretary. Jemison also served as president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., the largest Black religious organization in the U.S. from 1982 to 1994, and met with seven U.S. presidents during his lifetime. Jemison is credited with overseeing the building of Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tenn., the headquarters of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., during his tenure as president.