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Thu, 04.18.1929

Sarah Keys, Army Nurse born

Sarah Keys

*Sarah Keyes was born on this date 1929.  She is a retired Black nurses aid and WAC Army, officer.

From in Washington, N.C., Sarah Louise Keyes was the daughter of David Artist Keyes and Curley Vivian Wooten.  One of seven children, she graduated locally from Mother of Mercy School in 1948.  After graduation, Keyes worked in New Jersey and New York at a nursing home and at a jewelry store.   In 1951, she entered the WAC, both the Army and the WAC were officially integrated organizations. After completing her training at Ft. Lee, Virginia and Ft. McClellan, Alabama she was stationed in Texas and New Jersey.   

On the evening of July 31, 1952, Keys departed her WAC post in Fort Dix, New Jersey for her home of Washington, North Carolina, she boarded an integrated bus and transferred without incident in Washington, D.C. to a Carolina Trailways vehicle, taking the fifth seat from the front in the white section. When the bus pulled into the town of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, however, a new driver took the wheel and demanded that she comply with the carrier's Jim Crow regulation by moving to the so-called "colored section" in the back of the bus so that a white Marine could occupy her seat.

Keys refused to move, whereupon the driver emptied the bus, directed the other passengers to another vehicle, and barred Keys from boarding it. An altercation ensued and Keys was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, jailed incommunicado overnight, then convicted of the disorderly conduct charge, and fined $25.00.

Through the advice of her father she filed as a plaintiff in the landmark Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company civil rights case. This involved the Interstate Commerce Commission, in response to a bus segregation complaint filed in 1953 by private Keys of the Women's Army Corps (WAC).  This broke the Interstate Commerce Act as banning the segregation of Black passengers in buses traveling across state lines.  Keyes was discharged from the Army.   The case along with its companion train desegregation case, NAACP v. St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company, represented a milestone in the legal battle for civil rights.   Sarah Keyes currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.  

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