Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1830-1901)

ELIZABETHElizabeth was the daughter of Thomas Jennings, a successful tailor, and an influential member of New York’s black community. By 1854, she had become a schoolteacher and church organist. She taught at the city’s African Free Schools, and later in the public schools. During the same year, she was told to get off a streetcar and then forcibly removed by the crew and a police officer. The driver insisted Jennings get off and wait for a colored streetcar. She said no.
« I told him . . . I was a respectable person, born and raised in New York . . . and that he was a good for nothing impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church, » she later said.
Jennings filed a lawsuit against the driver, the conductor, and the Third Avenue Railroad Company in Brooklyn. In 1855, she received a verdict in her favor and was awarded damages of two hundred and twenty five dollars plus costs. The next day, the Third Avenue Railroad Company ordered its cars desegregated. A month after the verdict, a black man was refused admission to a car of the Eighth Avenue Railroad, another of the first four companies, and won a similar judgment against that company. New York’s public transit was fully desegregated by 1861.
She operated the city’s first kindergarten for black children. She died in 1901.

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