Johnnie Carr

Civil rights activist Johnnie Carr played a key role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association from 1967 to 2008.


Born on January 26, 1911, in Montgomery, Alabama, Johnnie Carr became youth director and secretary of Montgomery's NAACP in the 1940s. Carr played a key role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1965, she won a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Education. Carr was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association from 1967 until her death, on February 22, 2008, in Montgomery.

Early Years

Johnnie Carr was born Johnnie Rebecca Daniels in Montgomery, Alabama, on January 26, 1911. Her father, John, a local farmer, died when she was 9 years old. Johnnie's mother, Annie, was a domestic servant from Richmond, Virginia.

Determined that her daughter would receive a solid education, Annie secured Johnnie a place at a private school for African American girls. Originally called the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, it had since been renamed Miss White's Industrial School for Girls. While a student there, Johnnie befriended her classmate Rosa McCauley, who would eventually be known as Rosa Parks, the iconic civil rights activist.

In 1927, when she was just sixteen, Johnnie's school closed and she chose to marry a man named Jack Jordan, rather than burden her mother with the hardship of caring for her. The marriage resulted in two daughters, Anna Bell and Alma Lee, before eventually ending in divorce.

Early Activism

During the 1930s, after finishing school and while holding various jobs to support herself and her children, Johnnie first became politically active. In 1931, she raised money to pay for the legal counsel of nine African-American defendants falsely accused of rape what would become known as the Scottsboro Trials. Around that time, she also established her membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and went on to become the youth director and secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter in the 1940s. Working with the NAACP also brought her back in touch with her childhood friend, Rosa Parks.

In her personal life, Johnnie remarried in 1944 to Arlam Carr. Together they had one son, Arlam Carr Jr., and remained married until Arlam Carr's death in 2005.

Civil Rights Movement

On December 1, 1955, Carr's friend Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery public bus. When Parks was arrested, the Montgomery Improvement Association, then led by Martin Luther King Jr., launched a citywide boycott of public buses. Carr played a fundamental role in the behind-the-scenes organization of the ensuing 381-day-long boycott. She gave boycotters rides, fed protestors and gave speeches at rallies all over the country. In 1956 the boycott ended with the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate the Montgomery public transportation system.

In 1964, Carr and her husband were involved in a federal lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Education to desegregate Montgomery schools. Arlam Jr., by this time 13 years old, was a plaintiff in the case.

In 1967, Johnnie Carr took over for Martin Luther King Jr. as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. Through her work with the group, Carr largely strove to improve relations between blacks and whites in the South.

In 1969, Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. announced his ruling in the Carr vs. Montgomery Board of Education case: The school board had been illegally splitting itself into two separate parts for dealing with black and white students. As a result, the Carrs' son became one of the first 13 black students to attend the formerly all-white Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery.

Later Years

Carr remained president of the Montgomery Improvement Association for the rest of her life. She also became active with the United Way and One Montgomery.

After suffering a stroke, Johnnie Carr died in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 22, 2008. Following her death, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Morris Dees, called Carr "one of the three major icons of the Civil Rights Movement," citing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks as the other two.

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