Elizabeth Jennings Graham – A Precursor To Rosa Parks

1409 words - 6 pages

On July 16, 1854, an African-American woman named Elizabeth Jennings Graham stood up for herself and rode a white-only horse-drawn carriage. Just like Rosa Parks, she didn’t back down when someone told her to get off. I don’t know much about Graham, but I do know she is not mentioned in most history books. Rosa Parks is one of the most prominent figures in the civil rights movement, but many others were long forgotten about. Parks was very brave and stood up for what she believed in. Why are others like Parks left out of history books and why aren’t they mentioned in schools today? I researched Graham to learn more about her contribution to the process of dissolving segregation. She played a very important role and I wanted to figure out what exactly she did, how it was important, and why it is still important today, regardless if her story made it to the history books or not.
Elizabeth Jennings Graham set a new milestone for the civil rights movement on a typical Sunday morning, whether she planned it that way or not. In that July of 1854, the 24-year old school teacher was late for church. She was on her way to the First Colored Congregational Church on Sixth Street and Second Avenue to perform her duties as an organist (Biographicon.com). Accompanied by her friend Sarah Adams, Graham flagged down a carriage to reach her destination as quickly as possible. It did not read "Negro Persons Allowed in This Car," but she had no time to waste and didn’t particularly care either. As soon as they boarded the streetcar, the conductor told them to get off and wait for the next streetcar designated for Negroes, for this streetcar was for whites only. The women defended their ground and took a seat anyways, but the conductor said if any whites wanted to board along the way, "you shall go out ... or I'll put you out” (Nytimes.com).
Still, she did not submit. “I told him that I was a respectable person, born and raised in New York…and that I had never been insulted before while going to church, and that he was a good for nothing impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church” (Alexander, 126). At this point, the conductor had heard enough. He tried to eject Graham from the car forcefully, almost at the point of brutally attacking her. Still, she did not withdraw. Graham fought back and refused to give up. The driver kept driving and signaled a police officer to take care of her. The officer grabbed Graham and threw her onto the sidewalk.
After going through all of this, one would think Graham would just give up. She tried to stand up for herself, but failed. However, she told her story to her abolitionist friends, including other teachers, businessmen, and ministers. Her story was told at church the next day, and word of the event spread to the New York Daily Tribune. Luckily for Graham and her supporters, the editor was none other than abolitionist Horace Greeley. The story was also spread to Frederick Douglass’ Paper, and...

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