MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) – They knew she’d been shattered. 

And the four pastors, all leaders of the movement, wrote to the U.S. president to tell him just that. 

A sniper shot Rosa Jordan, a 22-year-old Black woman, as she sat on a Montgomery bus just three days after Christmas in 1956, according to press accounts at the time. She was eight months pregnant and headed to her job washing clothes for a white family across town. 

“Extreme violence continues to be directed toward the Negro people in the South who merely seek rights guaranteed every American citizen by the United States Constitution,” Revs. King, Shuttlesworth, Steele, and Jemison wrote to Pres. Eisenhower. “A few days ago the legs of a woman eight months pregnant were shattered by a gun fired into a public conveyance. A state of terror prevails.”

Within a month of the shooting, the police and the press forgot Rosa Nolan Jordan. No one was ever arrested for the attack. In the 66 years since the shooting, members of Jordan’s family said they’ve never been asked about the act of racial terrorism that shaped their lives and the life of a nation. Now, nearly seven decades since the day a bullet transformed Jordan’s future, her family is putting together the shattered pieces, seeking answers in a community they feel has ignored their loved one for too long. 

The Montgomery Advertiser’s initial coverage of the shooting of Rosa Jordan.

Tommy Jordan is Rosa’s oldest son. On Tuesday, a day shy of 66 years since his mother was shot, Tommy spoke publicly about what happened to his mother for the first time.

Rosa Jordan, whose family called her Dear, had been headed to work that Friday in Montgomery, just three days after Christmas. She had to make her way across town, where she was a laundry worker. Jordan was one of six Blacks and six whites who boarded a city bus – a bus which, under orders of the U.S. Supreme Court issued just days earlier, could no longer be segregated by race.

The bus had made it to Columbus Avenue near Bainbridge Street when the ambush began, according to press accounts at the time. 

The bus driver thought the shots were just exploding firecrackers.

“But when Mrs. Jordan screamed and her leg jerked out from under her,” the Montgomery Advertiser reported, “He knew she’d been shot.”

Jordan was brought to Oak Street Hospital where it was discovered that the bullet had gone through one of her legs and into the other. The hospital was hesitant to remove the round, press reported, out of a fear that she’d go into labor.

A police official told the media there were no leads whatsoever in the case, while at the same time suggesting that the gunfire had come from the direction of a Black housing project – a “fringe section,” the local paper reported. 

On January 28, in their final coverage of the story, a newspaper reported that Jordan had been “dismissed” from the hospital earlier in the month, but that “it could not be learned if the baby had yet to be delivered.”

That’s where the public record of Rosa Nolan Jordan, Dear, ended.

“They patched her up and sent her on her way,” her son Tommy said. “And the story simply disappeared.”

“A gross omission”

He said that in the 66 years since Rosa Jordan was shot, he’s unaware of any efforts by law enforcement – local, state, or federal – or by members of the media to tell Dear’s story. 

“It’s a gross omission,” Tommy said. When he himself found out the extent of what his mother had endured, he was angry.

“That anger was compounded when I found out that the case had just gone cold,” he explained.

When he became an adult, Tommy said, he went to Montgomery City Hall in an effort to find records related to any investigation. He was told no records existed, he said. 

What happened that December day 66 years ago impacted his family forever, Tommy said, and they deserve to know that some attempt at justice has been made. 

Dear’s baby

Rose Timmons was born on January 16, 1957, less than a month after she and her mother survived the attempt to shoot them dead. 

For her whole life, Dear called Rose her special baby. And for decades, she never knew exactly why. 

“You’ll all understand one day,” Rose remembers her mother telling her on more than one occasion. That day is only now coming to pass. 

Rose, a survivor of an act of racial terrorism that helped shape the future of a country, didn’t fully understand her role in what happened the day on Columbus Avenue. But tears streamed down her face Wednesday as she began to remember the pain she watched her mother endure over the years. She was beginning to understand, as everything was falling into place. 

There’d been the physical pain. Both Tommy and Rose both said that Dear had suffered from pain in her legs until her death in 2008. 

“Being shot had a profound effect on the rest of her life,” Tommy said. “She wasn’t able to walk as well as she could have. She was constantly in pain.”

Rose said she believes the shooting left a mental and emotional impact as well, one that she’s only now beginning to wrap her head around. 

“There were times when I’d go to her apartment, and she’d be depressed,” Rose said.

“There are things I’ve been through, and I don’t walk to talk about them,” she remembers Dear telling her.

A living legacy

But it’s not just the shooting’s impact on the family that’s gone unnoticed all these years, the Jordan family said. It’s their successes. It’s their ups and downs – their happy days and their sad ones. Rosa Nolan Jordan – Dear – left a legacy, and until now, it’s gone untold. 

But while, for decades, the police forgot what happened to Jordan, and while reporters, year after year, failed to follow up, Dear’s family never forgot her. Even those like Rose Timmons who didn’t fully understand their role in that fateful December day loved Rosa Jordan dearly. 

“I had a beautiful, wonderful mom,” Rose Timmons said. “She loved peace, and she loved her God.” 

“The family needs this”

Tommy Jordan said law enforcement should launch an investigation into the 1956 shooting of his mother Rosa. He’s realistic about the limited possibilities an investigation may bring, he said, but it’s an injustice to let this act of violence, borne of hatred, fade into the background. 

Family photos of Rosa “Dear” Jordan, who was shot by a sniper in 1956. (Photo by Lee Hedgepeth)

State Rep. Phillip Ensler said every effort should be made to help provide Rosa Jordan’s families with answers about what happened to Jordan that December evening in Montgomery. 

Ensler, who represents Montgomery in the Alabama Legislature, helped lead an effort to expunge the criminal record of Claudette Colvin, a Montgomery resident who, as a 15-year-old, refused to give up her city bus seat to a white person.

“For as much as we know of the civil rights movement and honor foot soldiers and heroes, there’s still cases of people who were deeply harmed and impacted whose stories have gone untold,” Ensler said. “They are unsung heroes in a lot of ways and are also victims in a lot of ways. Pursuing and trying to find some sense of justice or reconciliation for them – if that is something they want – is very important.”

Tommy Jordan agrees. 

“The family needs this,” he said Wednesday. Too much has been lost, Tommy said, and too much gained.

Just a few months before Rosa Jordan died, Tommy was at her hospital bedside as they heard the news that Barack Obama would become the first African-American nominated by a major party to become President of the United States. 

Together, they cried. 

“I lived to see this,” she told him. Tommy slowed his telling as he remembered his mother Dear. “I lived to see this.”