Friday, February 1, 2013

The future president & a landmark case

I enjoy reading lots of posts on Facebook from various women's history authors & organizations. One post caught my particular attention this past Tuesday. Penny Colman, a children's history/biography author whom I admire, posted a picture of a street sign in NYC, Park Row & Elizabeth Jennings Place with the following...
One hundred and one years before Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Jennings insisted on her right to ride a street car in New York City. Forced off by the conductor & a police officer, Jennings filed a lawsuit. The day after a judge ruled in her favor the railroad company desegregated its cars. In the 1990s, a group of schoolchildren lobbied to get this street sign placed at Spruce Street and Park Row, near the site of the incident.
Elizabeth Jennings Graham

"Cool!" I thought, and went about the rest of my week. Now here it is, Friday morning & I'm trying to come up with my blog post. I type "Chester Arthur Family" in to Google, because I still trying to research his sister Mary, the anti-suffragist, & I find this from the Miller Center.
A second case was also instrumental in advancing Arthur's public profile. The firm defended a black woman, Elizabeth Jennings, who had been forced out of the white section of a Brooklyn streetcar when she refused to leave the section reserved for whites. Jennings's case predated Rosa Parks' case in the 1950s by over 100 years; Parks' defiant act involving racially segregated motor buses in Montgomery, Alabama, launched the historic civil rights movement led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Arthur, now a partner in Culver's firm, won $225 from the streetcar company and $25 from the court. The case forced all New York City railroad companies to seat black passengers without prejudice on their streetcars.
Chester Arthur was her lawyer! He was the one who tried the case. I go to my book shelves.  Zachary Karabell's bio Chester Alan Arthur? Nothing. OK, it's a slim volume in a series focusing on the presidency. Thomas C. Reeves' 400+ bio Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur? Listed in the index... "Jennings Case, 16." Elizabeth Jennings isn't even referenced, but there is a long paragraph. In the notes a few corroborating sources are listed including an article from Frederick Douglass' newspaper.

It's these little pieces that keep me interested in history. I hope you enjoy what I rediscover.

1 comment:

  1. I love the little pieces too. This is great, Thanks. I found your blog through your "Likes" on my fb page. I will definitely return :)
    Susan Ozmore

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