Everyone who goes to school in the U.S. learns about Rosa Parks at one point or another, and rightly so. By refusing to give up her seat on a public bus in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, she effectively began the civil rights movement.
Rosa Parks became a powerful force for civil rights, in part because at that point things were at the boiling point in the deep south.
Elizabeth Jennings (bet you’ve never heard of her) had a similar experience a hundred years earlier — in the urban north. I had never heard about her until I ran across a footnote that brought me to a NYT article called “The Schoolteacher on the Streetcar” (Katharine Greider 11.13.2005).
Ms Jennings had her confrontation with a streetcar driver in 1856, before the civil war and the abolition of slavery. In fact, New York State had only abolished slavery in 1827, three years before Ms Jennings (seen to the right) was born.
This is the kind of thing I love to come across: a relevant story that is little known. After the court case in which she sued the bus driver and the company (and won), there doesn’t seem to me much detail about her life.
This strikes me as something that needs to be corrected. It also reminds me that prejudice and discrimination were alive and flourishing in the urban north.
EDITED TO ADD: Please be sure to read Steve’s comment, as he provides some context to Jenning’s story.