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Elizabeth Jennings Graham v. Third Ave. Railroad (Another Rosa Parks Story)

Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1830-1901) was a school teacher and church organist who taught at the New York city's African Free Schools and, later, in the public schools.

During the 1850's, the city use of horse-drawn streetcars on rails was becoming more popular than the horse-drawn omnibus. As with the omnibus, the streetcars were owned by private companies and the owners could refuse to serve any passengers they wanted to. Unfortunately, many refused to allow Nubian-Melaninite passengers.

On July 16, 1869, Elizabeth boarded a streetcar of the Third Avenue Railroad Company at the corner of Pearl and Chatham Streets. When the conductor ordered her off of the car, she refused. The conductor than tried to remove her by brute force and needed the help of a police officer to accomplish her removal.

There happen to be an organized movement among the Nubian-Melaninites of New York to put an end to this discrimination led by her father, Thomas, Rev. J.W.C. Pennington, and Rev. Henry Highland Garnet. She received national attention including being publicized by Fredrick Douglass.

Jennings preceded to file a lawsuit against the driver, the conductor, and the Third Avenue Railroad Company. She was represented by the firm of Culver, Parker, and Arthur. Her case was handled by Chester A. Arthur, the firms junior partner who would become President of the United States.

She won her case in 1855. In his charge to the jury, Brooklyn Circuit Court Judge William Rockwell declared, "Colored persons if sober, well behaved and 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 the amount of $225.00 ( $10,000 today) by the jury. She received another 10% and $22.50 in costs from the judge. The Third Avenue Railroad Company ordered its cars to be desegregated the next day.