50 marchers stranded in Washington after charter bus leaves them

For dozens of metro Atlantans who traveled by bus to Saturday’s 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington, the journey took a wrong turn in the nation’s capital.

On Saturday night, more than 50 passengers who had traveled to Washington on a bus chartered by the Cobb County NAACP where left stranded after what can loosely be described as a contract dispute.

Chapter President Deane Bonner said the driver left because she refused to pay him in cash.

“The fact that he actually left us blew my mind. How are you going to leave all these people in Washington?” Bonner said.

Rick Denton, the driver of the bus chartered through De’ Elegance Tours & Charters, did not return calls this week from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Cobb NAACP had chartered two buses, owned by different companies. An AJC reporter and photographer were among the riders on Denton’s bus.

Bonner said that when the buses arrived in Washington Saturday morning, she tried to pay Denton with a check for the agreed amount, $2,000. He refused to take it.

“He wanted cash. I told him that the NAACP doesn’t do business like that,” Bonner said. “At that point, we were already late and I told Rick that we would take care of this when we got back.”

Then, during the march, she said, she got a call from Denton saying he had left.

“He said he was already in Petersburg (Va.). I said ‘Rick, I will go to the ATM and get you $2,000 in cash myself,’” Bonner said. But Denton refused to return to Washington, she said.

“When we got back (to RFK Stadium, where the buses had parked) it wasn’t clear what was going on,” said Branko Radulovacki, a passenger on Denton’s bus, who was accompanied by his son, Ryan. “Folks were surprised and worried.”

Several people who had traveled on the missing bus squeezed onto the other one for the 12-hour ride back to Cobb. Preference was given to the elderly and women with children.

As for those who remained, the NAACP bought them tickets on a Greyhound bus back to Atlanta. The Cobb chapter paid for 25 riders, and the Atlanta branch paid for 10.

Bonner said the NAACP has already sent out apology letters to everyone on the bus and is now weighing its legal options.

“We are a civil rights organization. We weren’t making a dime on that trip, but we felt it was the right thing to do,” Bonner said. “We are try to empower people to do for themselves, but things like this set us back.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.