100 Years Before Rosa Parks

On July 16, back in 1854, African-American schoolteacher Elizabeth Jennings Graham was thrown off a Manhattan Third Avenue streetcar reserved for whites. With the support of the community and the help of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, she sued the streetcar company and won.

NYC school teacher Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1827-1901).
Typical 19th century public NYC streetcar.

Jennings was legally represented by 24-year-old lawyer Chester A. Arthur, future President of the United States. Their legal victory lead to the desegregation of all New York City streetcars.

21st President of the United States of America Chester Alan Arthur.

The court ruled that “Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence.”

In 2007, students from a school in manhattan learned of Elizabeth Jennings Graham’s story. After they campaigned, the NYC government renamed a block in Lower Manhattan “Elizabeth Jennings Place” in her honor.

Elizabeth Jennings Place in Lower Manhattan.

In 2016 we visualized the site where Jennings is remembered via Facebook Live:


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