Honoring Sarah Mae Flemming 68 years later

June 10, 2022

Sarah Mae Flemming is a champion and hero of civil rights thanks to her brave contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in 1954. Her legacy and actions were instrumental in helping end segregation in the U.S.

Flemming was born June 28, 1933 as the oldest of seven children. She grew up on her family’s 130 acre land in what is now Eastover in Richland County. 

Honoring Sarah Mae Flemming 68 years later Photo 1

On the morning of June 22, 1954, Flemming set off to work her job of being a maid. She boarded a bus operated by South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) at Main and Taylor Streets and took a front seat of what was at the time, a segregated bus. The white bus-driver proceeded to humiliate 20-year-old Flemming accusing her of sitting in the ‘whites-only’ section of the bus and blocked her from exiting the front of the bus forcing her to exit from the rear door of the bus.

After the incident, Flemming was encouraged by many local activists, including Modjeska Monteith Simkins who was the secretary for the SC NAACP at the time, to take action. She filed suit against SCE&G alleging that her 14th amendment rights had been violated. This lawsuit put Flemming into the national spotlight 16 months prior to Rosa Parks famously taking her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus.

A sign on the sidewalk that says Our Story Matters at the top. The photo has two black men and two black women. The paragraph on the sign is titled 'Sarah Mae Flemming and the integration of public transportation. The bottom of the sign says Columbia, SC, Civil Rights, ColumbiaSC63.com.

The case went through three years of dismissals and appeals, and two trials. Flemming never received any financial compensation. But, the ruling laid out the legal roadmap for Rosa Parks’ case more than a year later. 

The City of Columbia, Town of Eastover and Richland County have each declared June 22nd as “Sarah Mae Flemming Day.” 

In 2020, one seat on each of our 85 buses was saved in tribute to her legacy. The COMET continues to honor Sarah Mae Flemming and her legacy annually by telling her story through various promotions during the summer months.

Each year we work to spread awareness about her legacy and the difference her actions made. 

To learn more about her story, visit these links: https://scafricanamerican.com/honorees/sarah-mae-flemming/, columbiacityofwomen.com/honorees/sarah-mae-flemming, columbiasc63.com/location/sarah-mae-flemming-and-the-integration-of-public-transportation/.