Volume 7, No. 2
February 2020
Elizabeth Jennings's Fight for Dignity on Public Transit in 1854:
The Fight Continues in 2020
by Sue Straus

null There has been a long history in the struggle to provide equal treatment of people seeking to travel on public transportation. The Green Book was published to give African Americans a means to travel safely across the U.S. One hundred years prior to Rosa Park's action, another African American woman, Elizabeth Jennings found herself stepping up for her right to travel on a public trolley with dignity. On July 16, 1854, Jennings, a teacher, was running late to church where she was the organist, so she and a friend boarded a trolley where the conductor would allow them to ride if no white person objected. It was not recorded if anyone objected, but the conductor objected. However, the conductor could not convince the driver to stop and help him evict Jennings. Finally, a police officer boarded the trolley and threw Jennings off the trolley.

Jennings was primed to confront racial discrimination and seek retribution. She was born in Manhattan in 1827 (some records list her birth as 1830); her mother, Elizabeth Cartwright Jennings was a daughter of a man who fought with the Continental Army. Her father, Thomas L. Jennings, was a prosperous tailor, and he was the first black person to be awarded a patent in the US for a method of dry cleaning clothes in 1821.

When she was ten, Ms. Jennings delivered a lecture titled, "On the Improvement of the Mind" according to Amy Hill Hearth's book, "Streetcar to Justice" (2018). However, when Jennings later finished high school, she was not permitted to accept  her diploma with her class and was made to receive it in a separate ceremony. This allowed her to seek a teaching job.

After Jennings mistreatment on the trolley, her father sought help from the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, a charitable organization for free blacks and fellow abolitionists where a newly qualified lawyer, 28 year old Chester A. Arthur and his partners sued the Third Avenue Railroad System in Brooklyn for discrimination.

Frederick Douglass's newspaper and the New York Daily Tribune were among those that printed sympathetic accounts. Finally, on Feb. 22, 1855, Judge William Rockwell advised the jury in New York State Supreme Court that the company was required as a common carrier to convey all respectable passengers including "colored persons..." and that it was liable. Jennings sought $500 dollars in damages, the jury awarded $225 which was about a year's salary. The judge added 10% plus costs "Railroads, steamboats, omnibuses, and ferryboats will be admonished from this, as to the rights of respectable colored people," the Tribune declared.

Jennings taught for 35 years, mainly in black schools. In 1860 Jennings married Charles Graham and had one son, Thomas, who died at one. At this time, the Grahams had to sneak their way to the gravesite because of the Draft Riots by whites opposed to conscription during the Civil War. The couple soon left New York and settled in Eatonville, New Jersey. Charles Graham passed in 1867.  Jennings returned to Manhattan in 1871 where she once again taught at the Colored Grammar School, whose principal, Charles L. Reason was a pioneering black educator who challenged school segregation. In 1895, Elizabeth Jennings founded one of the first kindergartens for black children in her home in Manhattan, where she died on June 5, 1901.

The Fight for Dignity on Public Transit Continues in 2020           
We still need anti-discrimination laws on public transit for blacks and for wheel chair users

On Jan. 18, Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois called for a meeting with the CEO of Amtrak amid reports  that the railroad service charged a group of wheelchair users $25,000 for a normally $16 ticket to travel from Chicago to Bloomington, Illinois. The Democrat is the ranking member on the U.S. Senate Transportation and Subcommittee and is the first disabled woman elected to Congress.

The group Access Living is an advocacy organization working for the rights of disabled citizens. The group was told that the cost was necessary to offset taking out seats. Senator Duckworth said, "The Americans With Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years. Yet, in 2020, Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheel chair users to travel together."

January 19, on the eve of Martin Luther King weekend, once again Amtrak found itself apologizing for asking someone to move at the whim of an employee. This time, the person asked to move was African American civil rights attorney, Sherrilyn Ifill, who is the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Ifill refused and said she was reminded of Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a public Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.  

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Elizabeth Jennings and Rosa Parks for their fight against discrimination on public transit, and their fight for all people continues in 2020.


Please use the link below to register for the event:


Join the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) 
Chicago Chapter
For its Annual International Women's Day Awards Dinner  

Thursday, March 19, 2020

New Martinique Ballroom, 8200 S. Cicero

5:30 to 6:30  p.m : Reception and open bar 
6:45 p.m: Dinner Program
This year's theme: "Joining Hand in Hand, Winning Justice for All in Our  Land"  

Honorees at the dinner include:
Stacy Davis Gates, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union (Addie Wyatt Award);

Kathy Hanshew, Workers United International Vice President and Manager of the Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board (Joyce Miller Award);

Sarah Joy Liles, Estimator/Project Manager and member of Pipe Fitters Local 597; and  Tijwana  Baugh, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (Florence Criley Awards);

Louis  Gosland , Statewide organizer for the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans;
Michael Fowler, United Food and Commercial Workers; 
Ajike  Sumpter, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; and  Latecha  Daniels (Olga  Madar  Rising Star Young Leaders Award).

Reservations must be made by March 13th. No tickets will be sold at the door.


Mother Jones, "The Most Dangerous Woman in America" 
to Be Honored by a Statue in Chicago
By Helen Ramirez-Odell and Brigid Duffy Gerace

Chicago has few if any outdoor statues of real women to honor their contributions to history.
The Mother Jones Foundation has a project to erect a statue of Mother Jones who is not only an important woman in history but also a major labor leader.

 Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930) came to the United States from County Cork, Ireland as a child. She worked briefly as a teacher and married an iron worker with whom she had four children. Her husband and all of her children died in a yellow fever epidemic. After losing her family she opened a dressmaking shop in Chicago and became acutely aware of the inequality between the rich and the poor. Her shop and her home were destroyed in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. She was homeless and sought shelter at Old St. Mary's Church. Having nothing more to lose, she became interested in the plight of the miners and other workers. She attended meetings of the Knights of Labor and became a strike organizer. Her goal was to bring a living wage and decent living conditions to working families. She met with Presidents, captains of industry and union leaders, and became a great orator. She led a children's crusade against child labor. By 1900 she was known as "Mother Jones," the fighting matriarch of workers everywhere. Mother Jones endured numerous arrests. At her triaI for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners in 1902, a district attorney called her "the most dangerous woman in America."  In 1917 she received a standing ovation for speaking on behalf of Chicago teachers who were fired after the Loeb decision which prohibited teachers from joining a union. 

The Mother Jones Foundation has commissioned Kathleen Farrell (kathleenfarrell.org) to create the statue of Mother Jones. Farrell has received numerous awards for her work and in 2019  was given the Joe Hill Lifetime Achievement Award from the Labor Heritage Foundation.  She has produced dozens of magnificent statues, murals and monuments and said, "I strongly believe that visual art can have a profound effect on the way a population feels about itself, which ultimately can transform the collective culture of that group. The community and labor union public art I create tells the often forgotten stories of the lives of ordinary people - their history, struggles and hopes. I strive, through my art, to bring beauty and power to their stories."  

The Mother Jones Statue Committee has chosen Wacker Drive near Michigan Avenue, overlooking the river and across from the Trump tower, as the preferred site for the statue. After a meeting with Ald. Brendan Reilly who is providing support, Rosemary Feurer, Director of the Mother Jones Heritage Project, submitted an application to the city for installation. It is estimated that the statue and its installation will cost $200,000.  The Government of Ireland has provided seed money of $36,000.  The Chicago Federation of Labor, Illinois Labor History Society, United Mine Workers, Chicago Teachers Union, Working Women's History Project, and numerous other organizations have endorsed this project. 

Donations are needed to complete this statue and make it a lasting monument in Chicago.

Support the Campaign for a Mother Jones Statue in Chicago

Donate online through link at motherjonesmuseum.org/statue.

Make out checks to: Mother Jones Statue Fund
 and mail to Mother Jones Statue Fund
630 Joanne Lane, DeKalb, IL. 60115 

Mother Jones Statue Fund, Wintrust Bank, 4343 W. Peterson Avenue, Chicago, IL. 60646


Chicago Women's History Center will present African American Women and the Vote: A Centennial Review on Friday, March 6, 2020 at 5:30 PM, at Harold Washington Library, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, 401 S. Plymouth Court Entrance,  Chicago. The program is free and open to the public. Speakers will be Kathleen Thompson, presenting   Always There: Black Women and Suffrage; and Michelle Duster, presenting,  Black Suffragists: Representation in Public Spaces . Also included will be a film in the making, A Monument for Ida B, about the Ida B. Wells Monument. Info at 773-227-0093 or  www.chicagowomenshistory.org.

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Please contact us through Amy Laiken