Streetcars and Street Fights in Jim Crow New York with Dr. Richard Bell
She was wrestling for a better hold of the window frame so that he couldn’t pull her outside and throw her on the ground. No one got up from their seats to stop him. Instead, they watched, all of them, mouths open, as if it were happening far away. The conductor was bigger, older, and stronger than she was, and he yanked and heaved at her until her grasp broke. But now she was grabbing at his coat. As she held on, she could see her friend, a woman he had already thrown out of this boxy, airless streetcar, pressed up against its side, her face a picture of horror and rage. She was screaming at him, begging him. Get your hands off her.
“You’ll kill her! Don’t kill her!”
The woman in this scene is Elizabeth Jennings, the twenty-five-year-old New Yorker who launched the first successful civil disobedience campaign in US history. On Sunday, July 16, 1854, Jennings, an African American school-teacher and choir-mistress, stepped onto a “whites only” streetcar on Third Avenue. She was the first among a small army of young Black female New Yorkers to fight to end apartheid on urban transit in New York. Led by University of Maryland historian Richard Bell, this Conversation examines why streetcars were the locus of such frequent and fraught attempts to police the color line in the Jim Crow North and why Black women drove this extraordinary campaign for civil rights.
Dr. Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar Award. Professor Bell is author of the new book "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home," which was shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize.
This conversation is suitable for all ages.
90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.