Moment in Black History: Elizabeth Jennings

We all know Rosa Parks was not the first link in the chain when it came to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In fact several came before her including Elizabeth Jennings. While America was still in the throes of slavery Elizabeth Jennings, a school teacher in New York, had the heroic audacity to board a trolley full of white patrons and refuse to wait for the trolley described as "full of your kind". Jennings and her friend Sarah E. Adams were allowed to stay on the trolley but informed if passengers complained thy would be removed. Hearing this Jennings stated she'd never received such cruel treatment. She and Adams were then physically removed from the trolley.

Not ready to back down from this fight Jennings got back aboard the trolley. Jennings was no ordinary New Yorker. She was from a middle-class black family with strong abolitionist commitments and a history of combating racial prejudice. Her father, Thomas Jennings, was a successful businessman, a longtime abolitionist, and a leader in the early black convention movement. Her brother, a Boston dentist named Thomas Jennings Jr., was among the many passengers forcibly removed from segregated rail cars in Massachusetts the previous decade.

Elizabeth's father refused to let another one of his children experience this type of prejudice. He joined local blacks who met to change the “intolerant” streetcar company and to explore the possibility of bringing “the whole affair before the legal authorities.” The group published articles in the New York Tribune and Frederick Douglass’ Paper about Elizabeth's ordeal. The local National Anti-Slavery Standard and Californians backed their movement. Californians declared that they would "resist”, “until we secure our rights.”

When all was said and fought in court Elizabeth Jennings and crew won a settlement that held the trolley company responsible for her injuries earning her $255. Eventually Thomas and Elizabeth Jennings would have the last laugh inspiring the desegregation of New York public transportation.



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