KAT's 1st African-American Female Driver Had Something to Prove

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KAT's 1st African-American Female Driver Had Something to Prove
February 2018

Geraldetta Dozier, KAT's 1st African-American female bus operatorGeraldetta Dozier was walking home one day when she happened to look up as a bus topped the hill on Harriet Tubman Street. To her surprise, a woman was driving.

"I said, 'Wow,' and I walked right over to the bus offices, which at that time were at Jessamine Street and Fifth Avenue," Dozier said. "I was a student, living in the projects, a single mother raising my baby. I needed to make some money.

"I thought: If she can do it, so can I."

Dozier, now 68, made good on her impulsive career choice. She earned her chauffeur's license (now, a Commercial Driver's License), and in May 1976 was hired as the City's first female African-American bus operator in Knoxville.

Dozier came on board and drove for Knoxville Area Transit during a pivotal time in the transit service's history.

Just a decade earlier, the City of Knoxville had gotten itself into the transit business. The private company Knoxville Transit Lines (KTL) in 1967 had been sold to the City, and KTL changed its name to the Knoxville Transit Corp. (KTC). KTC moved to a new facility on Jessamine Street in 1975. That was a year before Dozier was hired.

In 1978, KTC changed its name to K-Trans, and it moved to Magnolia Avenue in 1989. The bus service changed names again in 1995 - becoming Knoxville Area Transit (KAT). 

By 2010, KAT was operating out of Knoxville Station, a state-of-the-art LEED-certified transit center on Church Avenue, and last year, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) recognized KAT with the 2017 Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award for small transit systems (less than 4 million passenger trips/year). 

Back to Dozier's story: It turns out, as she was about to make her livelihood maneuvering a 40-foot bus, she had a little secret.

At the time of her hire, she was hard-pressed for cash and didn't have a car. She walked everywhere.

"I wanted to ride," she says, laughing at the irony of going from being a pedestrian to a professional driver.

Not driving a car often, as it turned out, didn't hinder her effectiveness as a bus operator. Dozier went on in her 26-year career to log more than 2 million miles behind the wheel of a KAT bus. 

She once drove in a national bus "roadeo" obstacle course competition in San Diego. She won safe-driving awards at KAT and had just two accidents, neither her fault. (One time, a woman ran a stop sign, and Dozier clipped her bumper, veering her bus hard to avoid T-boning her. "I was actually thanked by that woman," Dozier said.)

Dozier made friends easily at KAT - good friends. She remembers playing cards during breaks between split shifts. And in retirement, she sometimes rides the bus to have a few minutes to catch up if one of her old friends is driving.

"My favorite parts of the job were the people and the driving," she said. "My main route was Dandridge Avenue, and I loved the people. I'd look after them, and they'd look after you. I miss them."

Being the first female African-American driver and only the third woman driver, Dozier said there were the occasional rude or insensitive remarks from passengers. They came rarely, but when they did, they stung.

One time, when she was driving a shuttle to a University of Tennessee football game, a drunk fan directed a racial slur at her. "It shocked me, because it was the first time," she said. But a friendlier response followed: A white female passenger kicked the verbally abusive man off the bus, telling him, "You can't say that to her."

When she got her start as a new driver back in 1976, Dozier admits being a little intimidated at first.

"You'd start out early morning, in the dark, driving this big bus," she said. "I was very scared, but it was something I had to do. I put my scared-ness behind. I wanted to prove a point that, as a black woman, I could do this. I had to prove it to myself."