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StoryCorps Griot: Devoted to Social Justice
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StoryCorps Griot: Devoted to Social Justice

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StoryCorps Griot: Devoted to Social Justice
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Each Tuesday, we hear from StoryCorps Griot. As part of this project, African-Americans across the country are telling stories about their lives.

Fifty-two years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Today's Griot story happened several years before Parks took her stand.

Jerome Smith was living in New Orleans at the time. He was 10 years old. Here, he remembers an incident on a streetcar that shaped the rest of his life.

Mr. JEROME SMITH: My father was on the streetcar here, and he took the screen down that separated the blacks from the whites, put it in the middle of the floor. Some months later, I did the same thing. And I put the screen down, took a seat and the streetcar became very hostile. An old black woman came from the back and slapped me aside my head. It was like there was a bell ringing in my head, and she said, I'm going to fix him for disrespecting these white folks. You should never do that, disrespect white people.

You have no business trying to sit with them. And she told to mama, take him home. And she pushed me down as I was trying to get off the streetcar. And she came behind me and she took me behind an auto store on St. Bernard(ph) and St. Claude(ph). And this was the moment. This was the moment that make me stand like I stand today. She told me, never ever stop. She started crying. She hugged me and said, I'm proud of you. Don't you ever quit. And even though, I didn't know the words that were right there, that opened up a door.

CHIDEYA: Jerome Smith in New Orleans. Smith went on to become a civil rights activist. Today, he teaches young people about getting involved in politics.

The StoryCorps Griot booth is currently in Memphis. Next stop is Harlem, New York. All the Griot initiative recordings are archived at the Library of Congress. A copy of each interview will also go to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Now you can read more stories like this one in the first ever StoryCorps book, "Listening is an Act of Love." Learn more at

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us.

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NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, the Black Panther Party's former chief of staff David Hilliard.

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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