Elizabeth Jennings Graham

Elizabeth Jennings Graham, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 30″

Elizabeth Jennings Graham

1827 – 1901

Almost a century before Rosa Parks became known for desegregating the Montgomery bus system, Elizabeth Jennings Graham desegregated the private NYC streetcars.

Elizabeth Graham was born free in 1827. She was a teacher who started the first African-American kindergarten in New York City. It was in her home and operated until her death in 1901.

In 1854, Graham insisted on her right to ride on an available New York City streetcar at a time when all such companies were private and most operated segregated cars. She was late to get to church on Sunday and got on one of the private streetcars available at the time. She was pushed off. She tried to enter again and was throw off, damaging her hat and dress. She sued the company for damages. Her case was decided in her favor in 1855, and it led to the eventual desegregation of all New York City transit systems by 1865.

This desegregation took place 100 years before Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks desegregated the bus systems in Montgomery, Alabama.

Elizabeth Jennings Fights Segregation in 1855

Elizabeth Jennings Graham – Zinn Education Project