Bus driver a trailblazer

Discussion in 'Honoring Black Ancestors' started by dustyelbow, Feb 15, 2006.

  1. dustyelbow

    dustyelbow Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Oct 25, 2005
    Likes Received:
    +21 / -0
    Even the working man of few words in our communities gets respect and he taught many under him many fundamental lessons on the job. This is one of our elders who made his own path to recognition. Also it shows how attitudes and practices have changed over time.

    Bus driver a trailblazer
    By: Dee Dixon , The Enterprise

    Mary Johnson, left, and Angela Pierre-Vallier, whose father Albert Pierre was a bus driver from 1966-2001, hold a shirt with his photo on it, as Wilda Glasper holds a photo of the bus drivers from the late 1960s. Johnson and Glasper along with Lynn Bettis, back left, and Charles Collins were some of the city’s first black bus drivers.

    Baseball has Babe Ruth.

    Jazz music has Ella.

    Black bus passengers have Rosa Parks and black bus drivers in Beaumont have Albert Pierre.

    Pierre was a legend in the driving corps. He worked as a city bus driver from 1966 to 2001.

    Throughout his driving career, Pierre never had an accident where he was at fault, said Bill Munson, Beaumont Transit Co. general manager.

    In 1998, Pierre was rewarded for his stellar driving career with a proclamation from the City of Beaumont and a commendation from the bus company's insurance provider - Carolina Casualty Insurance Co.

    "He was a great, wonderful guy. All the public loved him," Munson said. "He would work 16 hours a day if you let him. He was the kind of guy that loved being with other people and providing a service. I wish I had more like him."

    Growing up, his daughter, Angela Pierre-Vallier, 47, remembers riding her dad's bus with her brothers. They often fell asleep in the back.

    "It was fun. Just being with Daddy," she said. "I still see people in different places that talk about how they enjoyed being with my dad on that bus."

    Before he retired, Pierre continued the tradition of her childhood by letting her two sons ride with their Pawpaw before he died.

    "I remember ... I went to go pick them up and I said, 'Daddy, where are the boys?' And he said, 'They are in the back, sleeping,'" she said. "After he died, it was hard for me to see a bus because he did it for so long. I knew it wasn't Dad. I just had to deal with it. After awhile it got better, but I knew it wasn't Dad on the bus anymore."

    Bus drivers like her father paved the way for more black men and women drivers.

    Mary Johnson, 65, drove city buses from 1979 to 2001.

    "I had no experience when I started, so they put me with Mr. Pierre," she said.

    She smiles when she talked about how Pierre, a man of few words, managed to teach her everything from driving to handling transfers.

    When Lynn Bettis, 65, first came to Beaumont in 1965 from Detroit, where he worked in advertising, he needed a job.

    He met up with three local pastors who talked him into applying for a job at the city bus department.

    They needed him to join the other handful of blacks they recruited to the department in an integration attempt. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s the city bus department started hiring its first blacks.

    When Bettis started, he would drive buses from South Park to Magnolia Refinery. Some of the passengers were downright ugly, he said, especially if there were too many blacks on the bus.

    One woman got on the bus and told him, "I'm not riding with them nigras," Bettis recalled. "One lady told me one time to let her off about three or four blocks from her house."

    Eventually, the white ridership slacked off, he said.

    But tensions didn't stop at the bus doors.

    When the bus station moved from its old site to the new location, some of the white co-workers found a sign that used to indicate where blacks could sit on the buses.

    "You remember when we had them moving to the back with this sign?" the co-workers joked, to the dismay of the new employees.

    In the early '70s, Wilda Glasper was the fourth black woman hired at the city bus company and was trained by Albert Pierre.

    "When I got hired ... you didn't have to know how to drive," she said. "They let you stay out there until you learned."

    Glasper, who worked as the union steward about 30 years, almost quit the job because she kept running into cars during training.

    Pierre wasn't very talkative when he was training a new driver. He let them watch him and when it was time, "He put you in that seat and let you go for what you know."

    Duwane Roberts, 37, started driving with Pierre when she was 22.

    She said the No. 1 thing that she learned from him was to respect the passengers.

    "A lot of the passengers were low-income, and he taught me not to think I am above them because I have a job," said Roberts, who now is the transit secretary. "He was like a grandfather figure to a lot of drivers around here."

    She recalled an incident where a man named Johnny Brown called out for Pierre over dispatch. When Pierre responded, the man reverently whispered back, "When I grow up I want to be just like you," Roberts recalled. "I still think about that today. All the drivers looked up to him."

    Charles "Pepper" Collins, 70, had a brief driving career from 1963 to 1969, but he still has dreams about sitting in the driver's seat.

    When he was a kid, he had to pay his fare in the front, get off the bus and walk to the back to board.

    "Sometimes they would pull off," Collins said.

    He also was recruited by the Revs. Willie Nelson McCarty, G.W. Daniels and Edward Brown because many black men were being turned down from the driving positions. So the ministers started recruiting men who had clean driving records and a chauffeur's license and had a pleasant personality to make it tougher for them to be turned away.

    He earned $1.25 an hour.

    "That was during the struggle and it was time to make some changes," said Collins, who explained the racial tensions in the city as integration came to school and the city by force.

    When the black bus drivers were first hired, blacks still had to sit in the back of the bus, and often times white passengers didn't like riding a bus driven by a black man.

    "This was when they had the sign on the bus and on the water fountains - whites, colored," Collins recalled.

    As the retired bus drivers sat around Glasper's dining room table they had a chance to reminisce about the old days and their esteemed colleague - Pierre.

    He rarely missed work.

    The drivers had to report to work at least 10 minutes before their shift would start, and there were always two or three drivers on standby.

    Any drivers walking up to the terminal a minute before the 10-minute period would be considered a miss out, which meant they couldn't work for the day.

    There were many stories shared about the drivers wrecking their cars as they rushed to make it to work in the morning, including Pierre.

    He was trying to make it to work by 5:10 a.m., when he was making the turn into the bus depot, Bettis said.

    "All of sudden all of us heard this blam, blam, blam," Bettis said.

    Pierre had wrecked his new car and the camper tumbled off.

    "After that, he would always get there early, make the coffee and would be sitting there reading the paper," said Mary Johnson, who drove a city bus from 1978 until 2001. "He would look at us like, 'Where ya'll been?'"

    She always wondered how he was able to get to work at 4:45 a.m., and until Saturday it was a mystery.

    "Daddy had three alarm clocks," his daughter Pierre-Vallier said. "I mean those Big Ben kind."

    When the company hired its first black dispatcher, some of the drivers thought the stringent start times would loosen up.

    But because Howard Shepherd was the first black dispatcher, he had to set a precedent and adhere to the company rules.

    "He didn't cut no slack for nobody," said Bettis, who was his good friend. "He told us, 'I will put my own mama on miss out if she's late.' And he would do it."

    The bus drivers knew if they were half a second late, Shepherd would put them on a miss out.

    "He was a fine fellow off the job, but on the job he was strictly business," Bettis said with a hearty laugh.

    [email protected]

    (409)833-3311, ext. 418