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Reply #77: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Jennings [View All]

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jmm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-11-07 06:32 PM
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77. Elizabeth "Lizzie" Jennings


On July 16, 1854, Jennings, then a 24-year-old schoolteacher, waited at a New York City corner to board a horse-drawn bus to take her to church, where she played the organ. In Pre-Civil War Manhattan, black residents could ride either buses bearing big "Colored Persons Allowed" signs or, at the discretion of the driver, any other buses without such a sign. Drivers on those unmarked buses carried whips to keep undesirable passengers off.

Jennings chose a bus without the "Colored Persons Allowed." A local newspaper of the day described what happened next: "She got upon one of the Company's cars to ride to church. The conductor undertook to get her off, first alleging the car was full; when that was shown to be false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased at her presence; but she insisted on her rights, he took hold of her by force to expel her. She resisted."

The newspaper reported: "The conductor got her down on the platform, jammed her bonnet, soiled her dress and injured her person. Quite a crowd gathered, but she effectually resisted. Finally, after the car had gone on further, with the aid of a policeman they succeeded in removing her." No charges were filed.

This was not the end of it. Not satisfied with the massive rally that took place the following day at her church, Jennings took the bus company to court.

Jennings hired the law firm of Culver, Parker, & Arthur to represent her in a lawsuit against the Third Avenue Railway Company. The lawyer who argued her case was Chester A. Arthur, the future President.

In 1855, Judge William Rockwell of the Brooklyn Circuit Court ruled in Jennings' favor, finding: "Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence." Jennings was awarded $22.50 in court costs and an additional $225 for damages. The Third Avenue Railway Company issued a directive to all of its drivers the day after the decision, telling them to allow black passengers to ride any carriage. All carriages in the city were desegregated within five years of the lawsuit.

Jennings' actions had not been unplanned. The Rev J.W.C. Pennington had been speaking out in Jennings' church against the policy of refusing black passengers. Like Rosa Parks, Jennings decided to make herself a test case.

Jennings later married Charles Graham. The couple had a son, Thomas, who was killed in the Draft Riots of 1863.
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