Monday, February 18, 2008

Elizabeth Jennings

from fox sports network's series of vignettes that chronicle compelling stories of African Americans
from the The New York State Council for the Social Studies

On July 14, 1854, Elizabeth Jennings and her friend, Sarah Adams, walked to the corner of Pearl and Chatham streets in lower Manhattan. They planned to take a horse-drawn street car along Third Avenue to church. Instead, they entered into the pages of history. Elizabeth was a young African American woman who taught black children in New York City’s racially segregated public schools. Her father Thomas L. Jennings was a leading local abolitionist. An account of what happened to Elizabeth was presented on July 17 at a protest meeting at the First Colored Congregational Church in New York City. Elizabeth wrote the statement but did not speak because she was recovering from injuries. Peter Ewell, the meeting’s secretary, read Elizabeth’s testimony to the audience. The group passed resolutions protesting what happened to Elizabeth and sent copies to the New York Tribune and Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Both newspapers printed Elizabeth’s account and the resolutions of protest. At the meeting at the First Colored Congregational Church, a Black Legal Rights Association was formed to investigate possible legal action. Elizabeth Jennings decided to sue the street car company. She was represented in court by a young white attorney named Chester A. Arthur, who later became a military officer during the Civil War and a politician. In 1880, Chester A. Arthur was elected Vice-President of the United States and he became president when James Garfield was murdered in 1881. The court case was successful. The judge instructed the jury that transit companies had to respect the rights all respectable people and the jury awarded Elizabeth Jennings money for damages. While she had asked for $500 in her complaint, some members of the jury resisted granting such a large amount because she was “colored.” In the end, Elizabeth Jennings received $225 plus an additional ten percent for legal expenses.

1 Comment:

kfighter said...

not many speak of our couragous sisters from ny, nor the slave history of ny
this is great

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