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Civil Rights Hero: Sarah Keys Evans

Program on Black History at AUL Charter School

(L to R) Roberto Reyes, Principal AUL, John Hargrave, Cornellia Hargrave, Dr. Nestor Collazzo, Lead Administrator, Sarah Keys Evans, Krystal Hargrave, Robert Fink, President Board of Trustees AUL, Shanesia Davis-Clyburn, Vice-Principal AUL.
*Photos by Katherine Massopust

By: Katherine Massopust

PERTH AMBOY – On 2/21/17 Sarah Keys Evans was the key speaker at an assembly on Black History held at the AUL Charter School. The program began with a brief video about the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses and challenged the segregation laws in the south.

Krystal Hargrave, who once was assigned to write an essay on a hero of hers, chose to write about her Aunt Sarah Keys Evans who is a civil rights hero. Krystal Hargrave introduced her Aunt at the program.

Evans, who is now 86 years old, began her story: “I graduated High School in Washington, North Carolina in 1948. Some of my family lived in Perth Amboy, NJ.”

Evans smiled, “No matter what, I can’t say, “No!” If you live long enough – all of us – some of it may be historic. If you live long enough. The years pile up. Never let up the fight for freedom!”

Evans began her story: “I was in the military (WAC Private First Class) and assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey. I wanted to visit my family in Washington, North Carolina one weekend. So, I got on a bus from Trenton. When we got into North Carolina, the bus stopped at one point and the bus driver changed. The new driver asked me to sit in the back of the bus to make room for another military personnel. (I was comfortable where I was.) I gave him (the bus driver) the ticket, but he wouldn’t take it. The bus driver then told everyone that they there was a bus change and said everyone can go but the woman who refused to go to the back. (Despite this) I left the bus to go on the new bus. The sailor who was standing in the aisle said, “Can I help you with your luggage?” It was really the nicest thing to happen to me that night. When trying to board the new bus, the bus driver refused to take my ticket. The woman behind me pulled the shade down. One man said, “Miss, don’t you know where you are?” I left and tried to get on the bus again. I approached the bus driver and asked him to take the ticket. He refused. There were police on the side and they took me, one on one side and one on the other. I went in the police car which went on this dark, dark highway. “We’re taking you to jail,” they said. When we got to the police station, I was taken to the Chief of Police. I read at one point that you have the right to one phone call. He then proceeded to make a fake phone call and he then locked me up that night. He gave me some food and said, “Don’t pretend you’re too good to eat it because it is the only food coming to you for a while.” It was a dingy cell, with a mattress so dirty that something thrown on the street looked cleaner. The cell had a stool in the corner. I never lied down in the mattress. I was never so happy to see daylight (the next morning). The next day I went before the Chief of Police and he asked me what kind of uniform I was wearing. I told him, “The last time I checked it is of the U.S. Army.” That saved me from going to jail. He waited until 2 p.m. then put me on the slowest bus going to Washington, North Carolina to meet my family. It was Sunday and my family were all dressed and had went to church. My father asked me why I was so late. I did tell him about the arrest and the charge for disorderly conduct. He jumped up disturbed and stated, “You were not disorderly! We’re going to do something about that!” I managed to find out who these people were, but we had no luck fighting. I had to pay $25.”

AUL Students listen to Sarah Keys Evans speak

Sarah Keys Evans would win her case 3 ½ years later when her family got help from Mrs. Dovey Johnson Roundtree, a graduate of Howard University Law School. On Nov. 7, 1955, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ruled in the case of Keys vs. Carolina Coach Company: racial segregation on interstate buses is a violation of the Interstate Commerce Act. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy invoked it in his successful battle to end Jim Crow travel laws during the Freedom Riders’ campaign. This case was a turning point in the legal battle against segregation. (Ref Wikepedia)

Evans continued, “School was beautiful. Those young people played a huge role in implementing policies and laws were passed. Had it not been for them, things wouldn’t move forward. Not everyone was happy, but things go on. There are things that change every day. Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Sarah Keys Evans (L) speaks at the assembly of students from AUL as niece Krystal Hargrave and Principal Roberto Reyes looks on.

Evans ended the program with the following message: “See we stay free. When you lose it, it will be many generations before you get it back. Make the steps. We all have many miles to go. Your (miles traveled) are not be as long as mine. Never, ever let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve it. Everyone is here to hear some of my story. It took 3½ years for this to be resolved. It was 3 years later when my good friend, Rosa Parks was arrested on a local bus going downtown.”

To learn more about Sarah Keys Evans, the book: Take a Seat – Make a Stand: A Hero in the Family by Author Amy Nathan is available online and at local bookstores.

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