TASFAA Community Blog
The Woman Who Fought Transit Segregation in 19th-Century New York
by Nicole Javorsky
October 3, 2018
Before Rosa Parks, there was Elizabeth Jennings - a lifelong school teacher.
A century before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Elizabeth Jennings Graham defied the racial segregation of public transit in New York City. On July 16, 1854, Jennings (Graham was added to her name after marrying in 1860) was running late to church and tried to ride a white-only streetcar in Manhattan. The conductor told her they weren’t accepting black passengers. She was forced out of the streetcar, and a police officer inflicted injuries by physically pushing her.
“After dragging me off the car, he drove me away like a dog saying, not to be talking there and raising a mob or a fight,” said Jennings, quoted in Frederick Douglass’ Paper later that summer.
Jennings’s actions, and subsequent court case won in 1855, triggered the Brooklyn Circuit Court to rule that African Americans could not be excluded from transit. It wasn’t until the New York State legislature passed the Civil Rights Act of 1873 that racial discrimination in public transportation was explicitly outlawed in New York City. However, Jennings’s case was reported in the press and talked about in a way that forced more New Yorkers to consider the issue of racial segregation on public transportation.
Jennings’s case was reported and talked about in a way that forced more New Yorkers to consider the issue of racial segregation on public transportation.
In the years that followed, Jennings’s contributions became lost to history because no one was writing about her. Meanwhile, documentation, in the form of newspaper clippings, census records, and other documents, remained. Author John Hewitt wrote one of the few pieces of historical research about Jennings Graham in 1990, writing at the time, “By and large, historians and writers have not dealt adequately with [her] story.” In his research, Hewitt continued, “What emerged was the saga of a remarkable family—a bright, proud, cultured, feisty, middle class, 19th century, African-American woman, who stimulated in New York City what Mrs. Rosa Parks was to initiate in Montgomery, Alabama, a hundred years later.”
Chester Arthur, Jennings’s lawyer, had only been admitted to the bar a couple of months before Jennings was pushed off the streetcar, but he made use of a “recently enacted state law making common carriers liable for the acts of their agents and employees,” according to Hewitt, and won the case. Arthur would later become the U.S. president in 1881 after former President James Garfield was assassinated.
In what is likely the first major display of Jennings Graham’s story in recent years, The Museum of the City of New York’s Rebel Women exhibition includes her portrait and a description of her rebellion against racial segregation in 19th-century New York City. Rebel Women opened in July and features New York City women of the 1800s who defied the Victorian-era expectations of them.
“We kind of call her the first Rosa Parks,” Rebel Women curator Marcela Micucci said of Jennings Graham.
It wasn’t until the state legislature passed the Civil Rights Act of 1873 that racial discrimination in public transportation was explicitly outlawed in New York.
What is often left out of Parks’s story is that she had been a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s Montgomery chapter for over a decade before the 1955 arrest. Similarly, Elizabeth Jennings Graham spent her life as a schoolteacher promoting the education of black children, an extraordinary effort especially for the 19th century. And as Hewitt noted, “the brilliant success of the trial may well have been a source of encouragement as [Jennings] refocused her attention and energies on another important reality of her life: her role in the ongoing struggle to provide a decent education for the young black girls and boys of mid-19th century.”
This was before New York City’s Progressive Movement, which began in the 1890s. Even by the turn of the 20th century, only 6 in 10 school-aged children in New York were enrolled in school, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness.
Like Parks, when Jennings Graham refuted the idea that she should be late to church because a streetcar with available space was designated white-only, it was not her first time contemplating racial injustice or acting against the white supremacist status quo. She deserves a place in the history books.
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Dear TASFAA Members,
I hope your year has gotten off to a great start and you have found time to catch your breath, if only for a moment now that classes are well underway. It is a very exciting time for TASFAA as we are just a little over two months from our 50th Anniversary celebration and annual conference. Your conference committee has been working extremely hard to make this year’s conference one of the best in our 50 years as an association. The theme this year is Honoring the Past, Building the Future as we must not forget those that not only helped build TASFAA into the strong association that it is today but also made the way for us to continue the important work for our students for the next 50 years. The conference registration will be open online very soon, and I am truly looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible in April. I also want to take the time to keep the association informed about the ongoing work that TASFAA is doing as well as the recent results of our TASFAA Elections.
A TASFAA member meeting was held on February 13, 2017, at the SASFAA conference in Alexandria, Virginia. About 20 TASFAA members attended. After a welcome and introductions of attendees, Marian Dill, SASFAA Past President, delivered a SASFAA update. Celena Tulloss, SASFAA Vice President, shared information about the 2018 SASFAA New Aid Officers Workshop to be held June 3 – 8 at Wofford College. I would like to encourage any member with 3 years or less experience to attend. TASFAA is pleased to offer the Clyde Walker Professional Development Scholarship to a qualified member.
Our meeting continued with a discussion on TN legislation, specifically the Compete to Complete Act SB 2259 and HB 2114. Many of you were on the January 31 phone call with Tim Phelps and other members of TSAC discussing the bill. Let your institution’s administration know about this bill and the impact it may have on your students. If you have concerns about this bill, now is the time to speak with your Tennessee Legislator.
While at SASFAA Tiffany Summers, TASFAA President Elect from Lipscomb University, and Phyllis Faulkner from University of Tennessee Health Science Center joined Ron Gambill, TASFAA Legislative Chair, on Hill visits! They were able to meet with staff members from the offices of Congressman Cohen (D-TN) , Congressman Roe (R-TN), and Congressman Cooper (D-TN), as well as a member from the office of Virginia Foxx (R-NC). They spoke on behalf of our students and shared support and concerns with the Prosper Act. Thank you to those three for their advocacy!
To wrap up our meeting, Karen Hauser, TASFAA Past President and Nominations Chair, reported on our election results. 401 ballots were submitted, and 198 votes were cast (49%). Karen recognized the Nominations committee and the work done to provide a full slate of candidates. I would also like to express my gratitude to each TASFAA member who ran for office for their willingness to serve TASFAA. Congratulations to the 2018-2019 TASFAA elected officers:
President Elect: Joe Myers, Motlow Community College
Secretary: Kacee Hardy, Dyersburg Community College
Member at Large: Eric Farmer, TSAC
4-yr Public Sector: Jennifer Buckles, UT Chattanooga
4-yr Private Sector: Chanell Thomas, Vanderbilt University
Community College & 2-yr Sector: Holly Malone, North East State Community College
TCAT Sector: Cara Suhr, TCAT Nashville
Proprietary Sector: Mary Kidd, Nossi College of Art
I would like to congratulate Leah Louallen, TASFAA Conference Chair, on her election to the SASFAA Executive Board. Leah will be serving as Treasurer Elect for 2018-2019 and Treasurer for 2019-2020. Leah has served TASFAA in this same capacity in the past, so I know that SASFAA will truly benefit from her hard work and attention to detail.
I would also like to congratulate Marian Dill. Marian is a former TASFAA President, current SASFAA Past President, and Lee University Director of Financial Aid. The NASFAA membership elected Marian to serve as a Representative-at-Large for a two-year term beginning in the 2018-19 program year. The six National Representatives-at-Large are elected without regard to geographical location. This is a tribute to Marian's service to the profession as she was elected not just by TASFAA members but by institutional NASFAA members across the country.
Again, watch for our TASFAA conference registration to open soon. You won’t want to miss our 50th annual conference as it will definitely be one to remember. See you in April!
2018 SASFAA Conference registration has been extended!
Hotel Cutoff New Date January 16th. Please take advantage of the conference room rate of $145 plus taxes / night. Click here to book your room TODAY
Open Registration will end January 16th. Take advantage of the conference rate of $275. Additional fees will be assessed to registrations on or after January 17th. Click here to register TODAY
Conference Sessions include . . .
See You in Alexandria, VA
SAVE THE DATE!
2018 TASFAA Conference & 50th Anniversary Celebration
April 22 – 25, 2018
Embassy Suites, Murfreesboro Tennessee
On behalf of the TASFAA Conference Committee, I would like to invite you to TASFAA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in April 2018. We will send detailed conference information when registration opens in February. There will be more surprises and special guests than you can imagine! You don’t want to miss this event as we will be Honoring the Past and Building the Future!
In order to make this the best possible conference, we need your help with the following items:
Call for Sessions: This is your conference and we want to make sure we are providing sessions on the hottest topics that are impacting you. Please email any session recommendations to Leah Louallen at Leah.Louallen@tn.gov by January 10, 2018.
Former TASFAA Members: We are inviting all former TASFAA Members to celebrate our 50th Anniversary. We don’t want anyone to be left out! Please think of all of our friends who have retired or moved on to other careers or states and would want to join us. We will create a database of these friends to send direct conference communication. Please email Karen Hauser at K.Hauser@vanderbilt.edu with the name, mailing address, email address and/or phone number of our friends from years past.
Get these dates on your calendar so that you don’t miss out on this celebration! It wouldn’t be the same without you there!
Leah Louallen2017-18 Conference Chair
Check out this interesting read submitted by your TASFAA Diversity Committee 2017
Racism is Literally Bad for Your Health
Please check out our 2017 FALL Training page - we are having training in the West, Middle and Eastern part of the great state of Tennessee.
Choose your desired location and get "Bonafide"!
Contact Us: email@example.com