Lucy Stanton, Educator and Abolitionist, Was the First African American Woman to Graduate from College

Lucy Stanton from the Oberlin College Archives (source)

Lucy Stanton from the Oberlin College Archives (source)

On August 27, 1850, Lucy Stanton proclaimed the coming day when slavery would be abolished and encouraged the women at her commencement exercises at Oberlin College to be on the right side of history. She moved them with stories of women torn from their children and a brother killed in an attempt to protect his sister. She also connected the abolition of slavery to women’s rights, saying that “the freedom of the slave and the gaining of our rights, social and political, are inseparably connected, let all the friends of humanity plead for those who may not plead their own cause.” 

She called on the women to do their Christian duty and join the fight. “Woman, I turn to thee. Is it not thy mission to visit the poor? To shed the tear of sympathy? To relieve the wants of the suffering? Where wilt thou find objects more needing sympathy than among the slaves!”

Lucy was born free, but she had a passion to see others free as well. Born on October 16, 1831 in Cleveland, Ohio, she was the daughter of Samuel and Margaret Stanton. Samuel died before Lucy’s second birthday and her mother soon married John Brown, a wealthy businessman. Brown was an abolitionist and the family became involved in the Underground Railroad, often hiding as many as 13 runaway slaves in their home at one time. He also organized the city’s first school for African Americans, the Cleveland Free School, which Lucy attended.

In 1846, Lucy enrolled at Oberlin Collegiate Institute, later Oberlin College, where she became involved in the Ladies’ Literary Society and was elected its president. She completed the four-year Ladies’ Liberty Course, which is recognized as the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, becoming the first known African American woman to graduate from college. (Mary Patterson graduated in 1862 as the first African American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree.) Her commencement address, “A Plea for the Oppressed”, was a response to the Fugitive Slave Act, which was expected to pass later in the year. It was well-received and reprinted in the Oberlin Evangelist.

After graduation, Lucy became the principal of a school in Columbus, Ohio, a position she held for two years until she returned to Cleveland and married William Howard Day on Nov 25, 1852. Day was a prominent abolitionist, a librarian, and the editor-in-residence of the abolitionist newspaper Aliened American, Cleveland’s first newspaper specifically for African Americans. In 1854, she published “Charles and Clara Hays” in the Aliened American, the first published short story by an African American woman.

In 1856, the couple moved to the Elgin Settlement in Buxton, Canada to run a school for escaped slaves. The Elgin Settlement was a community established by the Rev. William King, a former slave owner turned abolitionist. King purchased 9000 acres and relocated there with 15 of his former slaves to create a refuge for fugitive slaves from the United States. While at Elgin, their only child, Florence, was born. A year later, William traveled to England to raise money for the settlement and when he returned he asked Lucy for a divorce.

Elgin Settlement is not the site of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum (source)

Elgin Settlement is now the site of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum (source)

Lucy moved back to Cleveland and worked as a seamstress to support her daughter, but she also requested a position with the American Missionary Association. Because she was married, but estranged from her husband, the Association questioned her morality and required endorsements of her character. Lucy’s character had always been above reproach and she had no trouble gathering endorsements from religious and community leaders in Cleveland. In spite of this, the AMA rejected her.

The Cleveland Freedman Association, however, welcomed the opportunity to employ someone of her character and education. So in 1866, they sponsored her to move to Georgia, and later Mississippi, to teach in schools for newly freed slaves. It was in Mississippi that she met Levi Sessions. Having received her divorce in 1872, Lucy and Levi married in 1878 and moved to Tennessee.

In Tennessee and later in Los Angeles, California, Lucy continued her activism and philanthropic work. She was an officer in the Women’s Relief Corps, a grand matron of the Order of Eastern Star, and in Tennessee the president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Like many black women, Lucy’s accomplishments are often overlooked and not as well documented as her white counterparts. She lived a life of purpose, promoting education and the rights of African Americans and women until she died on February 18, 1910 in California.

Resources

Sessions, Lucy Stanton Day (1831-1910) at BlackPast.org Remembered & Reclaimed
A Plea For the Oppressed by Lucy Stanton at BlackPast.org
“I Shall Have Your Sympathy, If Your Judgment Refuses Me Your Support”: Lucy Stanton
Day, the American Missionary Association,and the Politics of Respectability at Oberlin
College Archives
ALIENED AMERICAN – The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
STANTON (DAY SESSIONS), LUCY ANN – The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Lucy Stanton at Wikipedia

 

Helen Kendrick Johnson – Author and Anti-Suffrage Activist

Helen Kendrick Johnson at 28 (source)

Helen Kendrick Johnson at 28 (source)

Although the benefits of voting may be obvious to us today, in the 19th century, during the long campaign for women’s suffrage, there were many people, both men and women, who opposed it. One of the more prominent anti-suffragists was Helen Kendrick Johnson, an author, poet, and activist, whose book, Woman and the Republic, was considered one of the best summaries of arguments against suffrage, at least by those who were opposed. In it, she argued that women didn’t need the vote to gain equality and that their role in the “domestic sphere” was essential to maintaining the American republic.

Born in Hamilton, New York on January 4, 1844, Helen was the second daughter of Asahel Clark Kendrick, a professor of Greek at the University of Rochester, and Anne Elizabeth Hopkins Kendrick. Her mother died in childbirth when Helen was seven years old and much of her childhood was spent moving between her father’s home in Rochester and relatives, including the home of her aunt in Clinton, New York, who cared for her three sisters, and occasionally an uncle in Savannah, Georgia.

Helen attended Miss Doolittle’s school when she was living with her father, and much of her education probably came from him. He wanted her to be a Greek scholar, but she wanted to be a writer, and in 1863, she enrolled at the Oread Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts to pursue that goal. The Oread was one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in the country. Founded by Eli Thayer in 1849, it’s program was modeled after Brown University. There Helen developed close relationships with her professor and Principal of the Institute, Dr. Robert E. Pattison, his wife, and daughters. She considered Mrs. Pattison the “ideal house-mother” and felt secure and welcome in their home, perhaps experiencing real family life for the first time.

Oread Castle, home of the Oread Institute (source)

Oread Castle, home of the Oread Institute (source)

After her time at Oread, Helen returned to Rochester where she met her future husband in the spring of 1867. Rossiter Johnson had studied and graduated at the University of Rochester under Helen’s father. That spring a walking club was organized which included professors and their families and friends. According to Johnson, these were times of pleasant and humorous companionship where the chaperones gave the young people space to get acquainted. During one of these times, Rossiter took the opportunity to say “the wisest and most important thing I ever have said in my life.” By this, I assume, he meant a proposal of marriage, because on May 20, 1869, they were married in Helen’s home by her father.

Rossiter Johnson graduated from the University of Rochester in 1863 and went on to earn both Ph.D. and LL.D. degrees. From 1864 to 1868, he also worked as an editor at the Rochester Democrat, a Republican newspaper and in January, before they were married, he moved to Concord, New Hampshire to become the editor of the Statesman.

Rossiter Johnson (source)

Rossiter Johnson (source)

After their wedding, they set up housekeeping in Concord and Helen began her writing career starting with short stories and Bible studies. Her stories were written for children and published in the Statesman and various magazines. Her first major success was a series of three books called The Roddy Books. The first in the series, Roddy’s Romance, was written as a contest entry, and although it didn’t win the prize when published in book form it was an immediate success.

Around this time, their first child, Laurence, died. He was the first of three out of four children who would die before the age of two. After his death, Helen compiled a collection of poems related to the loss of children. This theme would touch other books which she wrote for families, such as Tears for the Little Ones.

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Helen’s focus was on her children and family life, as well as writing related books. Remembering her time with the Pattisons, she began collecting songs appropriate for family time. This evolved into a major project which she published as Our Familiar Songs and Those Who Made Them. The book was 600 pages long and contained 309 songs with words, music, the history of the song, and brief biographical sketches of the authors and composers. It was a great success. Published in September 1881, at the time of her death in 1917, when Rossiter wrote his tribute to her, it had not been out of print.

Helen Kendrick Johnson at 47 (source)

Helen Kendrick Johnson at 47 (source)

Beginning in 1894, Helen edited the American Woman’s Journal which had been founded in 1889 by Mary Foot Seymour. Women submitted articles on many different subjects, one of which was women’s suffrage. Prior to this she had given little thought to the issue, so she began to research it. Of course, she published the articles whether she agreed or not, but she felt that she needed to address the issue.

Helen wanted to see progress for women, to see women able to advance and work in different fields, but she thought this could be achieved without the right to vote. She began her research with the three volume history written by Susan B. Anthony  that described the movement so far, and went on to read many other articles and essays. She found the suffragist’s arguments to be “illogical and unworthy,” and said, “I cannot see the slightest possibility that through the ballot woman can secure one right which she does not at present possess.”

The result of her research was the book titled, Woman and the Republic: A Survey of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and a Discussion of the Claims and Arguments of its Foremost Advocates, published in 1897. It was well-received, at least in anti-suffrage circles, praised for its “calm” and analytical tone, and became a valuable tool for those of that persuasion. There were also critical reviews and many articles written finding flaws in her information and reasoning.

In spite of the fact that Helen supported women working, she was a firm believer in the idea that women should devote themselves to the “domestic sphere,” maintaining the home, caring for children, and working for causes which supported it. To promote this idea, she began to work to support the anti-suffrage cause, writing articles, speaking before groups and the legislatures in both Albany and Washington. In 1912, she founded the Giudon Club for the purpose of discussing political questions and for “active but dignified and effective work against suffrage.”

But time takes its toll and Helen suffered from hardening of the arteries. As she slowed her pace, she spent her last years on Long Island supervising the construction of two cottages she had designed. One of these, named Thalatta, became their summer home where she would spend time writing her final work. It was a companion volume to Woman and the Republic titled Woman’s Place in Creation. Just weeks before her death, she finished the last chapter and arranged the photos for the book.

Helen Kendrick Johnson died January 3, 1917. Her husband and their daughter Florence accompanied her body to Rochester, New York, where she was laid to rest beside the three children she had lost too soon.

Thalatta summer home on Long Island (source)

Thalatta summer home on Long Island (source)

Resources
Helen Kendrick Johnson: Her Desire to Stay the Same by Danielle Hillriegel, Utica College (pdf)

Helen Kendrick Johnson (Mrs. Rossiter Johnson) The Story of Her Varied Activities by
Rossiter Johnson (at internet archives)

Woman and the Republic by Helen Kendrick Johnson

Shirley Graham Du Bois – Political Activist, Composer, Playwright, and Author

Shirley Graham, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

Shirley Graham, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

I wrote a short piece for the Facebook page last week on Shirley Graham Du Bois, but feel that this remarkable woman deserves more attention. Not only was she a well-established political activist before she married her famous husband, W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1951, she was also a composer , a published playwright, a lecturer and an author. Taught as a child to stand up to injustice, she wrote her first editorial when she was 13 and never looked back.

Born November 11, 1896, Shirley was the oldest of five children born to David A Graham, an African Methodist Episcopal minister and his wife Elizabeth Etta Bell Graham. The family moved frequently because of her father’s assignments. Living in both northern and southern states such as Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Colorado, they ended up in Spokane, Washington, where Shirley graduated from Lewis and Clark High School. Her father officiated at her first marriage to Shadrach McCants in 1918. The couple had two boys, Robert (1923) and David (1925), before obtaining a divorce in 1927.

After the divorce, Shirley left her two boys with her parents and traveled extensively, studying and teaching. She studied at Howard University School of Music, the Institute of Musical Arts in NYC, and at the Sorbonne before entering Oberlin College in 1931 where she received her undergraduate degree and a Masters in Music. She taught music and fine arts during this time to support herself. Later, she took classes toward a doctorate in English at Yale and New York University.

During her time at the Sorbonne, she met many people of African descent and developed a desire to express African and African-American themes through her music. In 1932, her opera, Tom Tom: An Epic of Music and the Negro, premiered in Cleveland, Ohio to great acclaim, making her the first African-American woman to write and produce an opera with an all-black cast. It told the story of Africans’ journey to North America as enslaved people, their struggles, and finally their freedom.  It took place in a stadium setting and attracted 25,000 people to the first two performances. She wrote other musicals, as well as comedic and tragic plays, including Deep Rivers (1939), It’s Morning (1940), Track Thirteen (1940), and Elijah’s Raven (1941).

After her time at Oberlin, Shirley served as a director of a unit of the Chicago Federal Theater, the YWCA-USO Director at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and founded the Graham Artists Bureau in Chicago with her brother Bill to secure bookings for African-American artists. Dismissed after defending men who were protesting the deaths of three black soldiers at Fort Huachuca, she was hired by the NAACP as a field secretary to organize new branches across the country.

Shirley was a prolific writer having written her first editorial at the age of 13, after being barred from a YWCA swimming pool. She wrote in several genres, but is particularly known for her biographies for both adults and children. Her first book, George Washington Carver, Scientist, was published in 1944, followed by Paul Robeson, Citizen of the World (1946), and Your Most Humble Servant: Benjamin Banneker (1949), among others. She focused not only on famous African-Americans, but also on international individuals such as Gamal Nassar and Julius Nyerere. She also wrote two novels, Zulu Heart (1974) and a historical novel about the life of Frederick Douglass, There Once Was a Slave (1947) which won the Messner Prize.

W.E.B. Du Bois c. 1946, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

W.E.B. Du Bois c. 1946, Carl Van Vechten Photographs, Library of Congress (source)

Politically active throughout her life she wrote and delivered many speeches and published articles on a variety of topics related to minorities, women, and peace. Her focus was not confined to issues in the United States, but was global. In 1961, she was one of the founders of Freedomways, a civil rights magazine, and became its first general editor. She was also one of the founders of the Progressive Party and in 1948 gave the keynote address at the convention in Philadelphia which nominated former Vice President Henry Wallace for President.

Shirley’s second marriage was to W.E.B. Du Bois on Feb 27, 1951, about six months after the death of his first wife. Thirty years his junior, she had known him since she was a child and as an adult had worked as a colleague on many common causes.

After their wedding, he was indicted for “un-American” activities, but there was insufficient evidence for a conviction. For the next 10 years, they fought legal battles with the government and continued to be harassed by US officials because of their left-leaning stances.  Finally, they decided to emigrate to Ghana in 1961. They became citizens and even after W.E.B.’s death in 1963, Shirley remained in Ghana until the coup d’etat in 1966.

A woman of many talents, after her husband’s death, Shirley worked with Ghana Television, developing studio space, training staff, and helping to develop the national infrastructure. In 1966, with the overthrow of the government led by Kwame Nkrumah, she moved to Cairo, Egypt to live with her son David who was working as a journalist.

In Cairo, Egypt, she traveled throughout the world speaking and promoting the cause of liberation for Africans, African-Americans, and women. In 1971, she also published her memoir of W.E.B., His Day Is Marching On. In 1977, Shirley traveled to Beijing, China, for cancer treatment, where she died on March 27th.

Shirley Graham Du Bois was a very talented and versatile woman who had a passion for justice that wouldn’t be denied.

Resources

Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

DuBois, Shirley Graham (1896-1944) at Black Past Remembered & Reclaimed

Shirley Graham Du Bois at Wikipedia

Helene Stöcker – Fighting for Women’s Control Over Their Lives

Helene Stöcker c. 1900 (source)

Helene Stöcker c. 1900 (source)

From time to time in women’s rights protests you see signs saying something along the lines of “Didn’t my Grandmother fight for these rights?” It’s true, the battles aren’t new, or confined to any particular country. One of the earliest champions for women’s rights, including control over their own bodies, was Helene Stöcker of Germany.

Born November 13, 1869 in Elberfeld, Germany, Helene grew up in a strict Calvinist household. She was the oldest of eight children born to Peter Heinrich Ludwig Stöcker and Hulda Bergmann Stöcker. Her father had wanted to be a missionary, but had to take over the family business, still Bible reading and daily prayer were part of the family routine. Helene eventually rejected her father’s religion, but acknowledged his influence on her values, including personal integrity, charity, and a sense of justice.

Her mother also influenced her future concerns. Like Margaret Sanger, Helene saw the toll that eight births had taken on her mother. Only five of Hulda’s children survived to adulthood, and when there were complications at the birth of her only son, Helene had to take on the responsibilities of the household. This (along with Gretchen’s situation in Goethe’s Faust, as she later said) led her to consider the consequences related to reproduction for women in traditional relationships.

Helene was a voracious reader and an independent thinker. She attended a girls’ school and in 1890 a teacher’s seminary, preparing to be a teacher. But, instead of following this path, she moved to Berlin and began to attend classes at the university in literature, philosophy and economics. At the time, the university didn’t allow women to obtain degrees, so she moved on to Glasgow and finally to the University at Bern where she received her doctorate in Literature in 1902, becoming one of the first women in Germany to do so.

In 1905, Helene became the head of the League for the Protection of Mothers (Bund für Mutterschutz) which had been founded in Berlin in 1904 by Ruth Bré. The change in leadership was due to a conflict over the direction of the organization. Bré was primarily concerned with the situation of single mothers and their children. In addition to promoting equality of illegitimate children under the law and establishing homes for unwed mothers, Helene also promoted sex education, access to contraceptives, and the legalization of abortion. In 1908 the League was renamed the League for the Protection of Mothers and Sexual Reform (Bund für Mutterschutz und Sexualreform).

The League was engaged in practical solutions, but also political activism and debate. It included many well-known intellectuals both men and women, including Lily Braun, Marie Stritt, Adele Schreiber, Max Weber, and Friedrich Naumann. Their activities and theoretical debate were publicized through two journals, edited by Helene, called Mutterschutz and Die Neue Generation. According to Allen, Stöcker was the intellectual leader of the group. One of her colleagues, Grete Meisel-Hess said that “Her personality expresses a calm self-confidence; no attack can intimidate her or deter her from her chosen course of action.”

One attack common to many feminist groups of the time was the accusation that they promoted “free love.” While the focus of the group was traditional heterosexual relationships, they insisted on the need for equality between men and women in marriage, but also legal recognition of what they called “free relationships,” which included not only support for single mothers, but homosexuality, and the right to divorce.

Beginning during WWI, Helene shifted much of her energy to the Peace movement. She had long been a pacifist having joined the Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (German Peace Society, DFG) in 1892 while in Berlin. And in 1921, she was involved in the founding of the organization named Paco which later was known as the War Resisters’ International and is still in existence.

Helene never married. In 1899, she spent one semester in school at Glasgow. There she met and fell in love with a German lecturer named Alexander Tilly. Tilly was married with children, but when his wife died in 1902, Helene briefly returned to care for him and his children. She found, however, that maintaining her professional life while being a wife and step-mother was too difficult and she returned to Berlin. In 1905, she met Bruno Springer, a lawyer with whom she had a relationship until his death in 1931. They never married, but kept separate apartments on the same floor to be near each other.

Helene’s written works were extensive, as was her political support for her ideas, including her anti-war efforts. For this reason, life in Germany became difficult during the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi party. In 1937, she was stripped of her German citizenship and her doctorate degree. Her bank account was seized, her writings blacklisted, and her manuscripts burned. She first fled to Switzerland and then England. Attending a conference in Sweden when the war broke out, she decided to stay, but when Norway was invaded, she left Europe and eventually ended up in the United States where she died of cancer on February 24, 1943.

Note: Most of Helene Stöcker’s works don’t seem to have been translated into English, but the journal article in Signs by Ann Taylor Allen gives an excellent analysis of her ideas and how they contrasted with other men and women both in and outside of the League. If you’re interested in her ideas I highly recommend it.

Resources
Helene Stöcker (1869-1943) (link to pdf file)

Allen, Ann Taylor. “Mothers of the New Generation: Adele Schreiber, Helene Stöcker, and the Evolution of a German Idea of Motherhood, 1900-1914”. Signs 10.3 (1985): 418–438.(Behind a subscription wall at Jstor, but you can read three articles free every 14 days.)

Braker, Regina, “Helene Stocker’s Pacifism in the Weimar Republic: Between Ideal and Reality“, at Project Muse. (The full text is available only through institution subscription, but the summary has good information.)

Women in Law: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook by Rebecca Mae Salkar and Mary Volcansek (excerpt from Google Books)

Helene Stöcker, “The Modern Woman” (1893, at German History Docs

10 Women Who Refused to Give Up Their Seats Before Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks c. 1955 (source)

Rosa Parks c. 1955 (source)

When Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, the community didn’t hesitate to rally around her and begin the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was a pillar in the community with an unimpeachable character. She was also an activist with experience in the civil rights movement, and the perfect person to give a face to the struggle.

Rosa was seated in the “colored section” of the bus when the “white section” filled up and the driver told her to move. She refused to obey and was subsequently arrested. Her action prompted the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was an active civil rights worker and at the time secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP. Although her court case became bogged down in state courts, her action, the boycott, and the successful case of Browder v. Gayle, finally brought about desegregation of the city’s bus system.

This post is intended in no way to take away from what Mrs. Parks did. Rather it is to highlight the fact that there were many brave women who took similar actions.

Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith

Each of these four women were arrested during 1955 for refusing to give up their seats on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Of these four women, Claudette Colvin is probably the most well-known. On March 2, Claudette was forcibly removed from a bus for refusing to give her seat to a white man. She was 15 years old, a student at Booker T. Washington High School, and an active member of the NAACP’s Youth Council. Initially, it was thought that her case might be used to organize a boycott, but when they discovered that Claudette was pregnant the idea was put on hold.

However, after the boycott began, following Parks arrest, attorneys Fred Gray, E.D. Nixon, and Clifford Durr decided to initiate a civil action suit separate from Parks’ case. When Browder, McDonald, Colvin, and Smith agreed to be plaintiffs, they filed Browder v. Gayle in District Court. Another woman, Jeanette Reese, was initially part of the suit but withdrew because of intimidation from the white community. On June 13, 1956, the district court ruled that the bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the decision was affirmed by the US Supreme Court on November 13, 1956.

Sarah Keys

In 1952, Sarah Keys was a WAC private headed home on furlough from Fort Dix, New Jersey. The bus was integrated; the decision in Morgan v. Virginia had declared Jim Crow laws inoperable on interstate buses in 1946. When Sarah boarded a Carolina Trailways bus in Washington DC, she had no difficulties, but when a new driver took over in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina he demanded that she move to the “colored section” of the bus and give her seat to a white marine.

When she refused to give up her seat, the driver directed all the passengers to another bus and prevented Sarah from boarding. An altercation resulted and Sarah was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. She was kept in jail overnight without being allowed to contact anyone, convicted and charged a fine of $25.

Sarah and her father contacted the NAACP and were referred to Dovey Johnson Roundtree and her law partner Julius Winfield Robertson. Roundtree had been a WAC recruiter in the Deep South and had a similar experience in 1943, in Florida. It was a long battle, but eventually, on November 7, 1955, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a ruling in Sarah’s favor, finding that forced segregation violated the Interstate Commerce Act.

Sadly, in his position as Chairman of the Commission, J. Monroe Johnson (from South Carolina), failed to enforce the ruling. It wasn’t until after the violence during the Freedom Riders campaign that the Commission was forced to implement their ruling by US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Irene Morgan

Unlike Rosa Parks, Irene Morgan wasn’t trained in non-violent civil disobedience, so when she was told to move to give up her seat to a white couple, she fought back physically. On July 16, 1944, Irene was seated in the “colored section” of a Greyhound bus when a white couple boarded. Irene and the woman seated next to her were told to move further back. When she refused, the angry driver drove to the jail in the town of Saluda, Virginia, where she was presented with an arrest warrant.

Irene tore up the arrest warrant. When an officer tried to grab her, she kicked him in “a very bad place.” She clawed and tore the shirt of another officer. When she was finally subdued and dragged off of the bus, she was charged with resisting arrest and violating Virginia’s segregation laws. She pleaded guilty of resisting arrest and paid a $100 fine. However, she pleaded not guilty to the violation of the segregation laws and refused to pay the $10 fine.

Eventually, her case, Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, made it to the Supreme Court, with a legal team led by Thurgood Marshall, and won. On June 3, 1946, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in interstate travel was unconstitutional. Although the ruling was ignored in much of the South, the Freedom Riders paid tribute to Irene, “Get on the bus, sit anyplace, ‘Cause Irene Morgan won her case. You don’t have to ride Jim Crow.”

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells c. 1893 (source)

Ida B. Wells c. 1893 (source)

On May 4, 1884, a conductor on a Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company train asked Ida Wells to give up her first class seat to a white man and move to the “Jim Crow” car, which also happened to be the smoking car. The 1875 Civil Rights Act banned discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color on public transport, but this was in Memphis, Tennessee, and several companies ignored the ruling, especially in the south where they could get away with it. (This was before the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision of “separate but equal.”)

Ida refused to give up her seat saying that the other car was a smoker and she was in the ladies’ car. The conductor tried to remove her and she held on to the seat and bit the back of his hand. He then went for help from two other men and the three of them succeeded in dragging her out of the train.

Ida hired an attorney, who was paid off by the company, then hired another attorney who won the case in the local circuit court with an award of $500. The company appealed, however, and the decision was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth (source)

Sojourner Truth (source)

In 1865, Sojourner Truth refused to give up her seat and challenged the segregated horse car system in Washington DC. Usually drivers refused to stop when she wanted to ride, even when they did, they insisted that she ride in the Jim Crow car. Sojourner complained to the president of the car system and the Jim Crow car was removed.

Once when a driver refused to stop, she began yelling “I want to ride!” It startled so many people that traffic came to a stop and she was able to get on the horse car. When told to go ride up where the horses were, outside the actual car, she refused. She told him she wasn’t from Virginia or Maryland, but New York, and knew the law and wouldn’t be intimidated!

On another occasion she was slammed up against a door. Reporting the incident got the driver dismissed. Sojourner continued her riding campaign, encouraging others to do the same. According to Margaret Washington, “She acted boldly, and with flair. She knew that because her name was known, she could focus attention on the illegality and injustice of segregation. She repeated her ride-ins often enough and over a long enough period of time to drive home her point.”

Elizabeth Jennings Graham
Elizabeth Jennings Graham c. 1895 (source)

Elizabeth Jennings Graham c. 1895 (source)

Elizabeth Jennings was a schoolteacher and the church organist at the First Colored American Congregational Church in New York City, and on July 16th, 1864 she was running late. She and her friend, Sarah Adams, hailed a horse-drawn streetcar and didn’t notice if there was a sign saying that “Negro Persons” were allowed on the car. The conductor told them to get off and Elizabeth refused telling him he was an “impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church.”

Sarah got off, but Elizabeth clung to the window frame when he tried to force her off. The conductor drove on, but stopped when he saw a police officer. When the officer boarded, he pushed Elizabeth off of the car and to the sidewalk, damaging her bonnet and dress.

Elizabeth wrote a letter detailing her treatment. It was read in church and sent to Horace Greeley’s newspaper, The New York Daily Tribune. Her father also contacted a lawyer, Chester Arthur, the future US President. Arthur won the case against the Third Avenue Railway Company, saying that “colored persons” couldn’t be kept off of public transportation by company rules “nor by force or violence.”

Frances Watkins Harper
Frances Watkins Harper (source)

Frances Watkins Harper (source)

Frances Watkins Harper was writer, teacher, and public speaker, lecturing on abolitionism, prohibition, and women’s suffrage, both before and after the Civil War. During the Reconstruction era, she also traveled in the south to report on living conditions of freedmen.  In April of 1858, while traveling in Pennsylvania, she was asked to leave one of the city cars. She refused and told her own story in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison’s paper The Liberator.

“The other day, in attempting to ride in one of the city cars, after I had entered, the conductor came to me, and wanted me to go out on the platform. Now, was not that brave and noble? As a matter of course, I did not. Some one interfered, and asked or requested that I might be permitted to sit in a corner. I did not move, but kept the same seat. When I was about to leave, he refused my money, and I threw it down on the car floor, and got out, after I had ridden as far as I wished. Such Impudence!”

"The Liberator" (April 23, 1858) article by Frances Watkins Harper

“The Liberator” (April 23, 1858) article by Frances Watkins Harper

Resources
Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks
Keys v. Carolina Coach Co. at Wikipedia
Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia
Ida B. Wells and Her Passion for Justice
Sojourner Truth: A Life Led By Faith
The Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Margaret Washington
The Schoolteacher on the Streetcar (Elizabeth Jennings)
The Liberator (April 23, 1858) – article written by Frances Watkins Harper