Despite becoming famous for his work during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was not a Montgomery bus rider. He knew he didn’t have to be to get involved. “But I would be less than a Christian if I stood back and said, because I don’t ride the bus, I don’t have to ride a bus, that it doesn’t concern me,” he said in his 1955 bus boycott speech.

Our namesake understood that inequity on a bus, on any form of transportation, is about so much more than where you’re allowed to sit. Bus routes can affect where you live, what employment is available to you, what you see of your community.

This week, labor and health equity reporter Hannah Grabenstein and visuals director Andrea Morales rode a Memphis Area Transit Authority bus. It was Hannah’s first time and she wanted to understand why the public transportation system was cutting bus routes so many workers depend on. The experience helped give Hannah perspective into a story that was more complex than she imagined. 

MLK50: Justice Through Journalism labor and health equity reporter Hannah Grabenstein interviews a bus rider of the 12 Mallory line in November. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Hannah’s story explores the issues around why the MATA  is the way it is. Yet the real question might be: Why do those of us who drive by in our cars, who care about climate change, who want Memphis to thrive – why don’t we demand more from our policymakers when it comes to our transportation system?

Dr. King wondered about that too. I ended that passage in his speech early. There’s more: “I will not be content. I can hear a voice saying, ‘If you do it unto the least of these, my brother, you do it unto me.’”

Adrienne Johnson Martin in executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com


This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to info@mlk50.com.