America's First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights

America's First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights

by Jerry Mikorenda


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In 1854, traveling was full of danger. Omnibus accidents were commonplace. Pedestrians were regularly attacked by the Five Points’ gangs. Rival police forces watched and argued over who should help. Pickpockets, drunks and kidnappers were all part of the daily street scene in old New York. Yet somehow, they endured and transformed a trading post into the Empire City.
None of this was on Elizabeth Jennings’s mind as she climbed the platform onto the Chatham Street horsecar. But her destination and that of the country took a sudden turn when the conductor told her to wait for the next car because it had “her people” in it. When she refused to step off the bus, she was assaulted by the conductor who was aided by a NY police officer. On February 22, 1855, Elizabeth Jennings v. Third Avenue Rail Road case was settled. Seeking $500 in damages, the jury stunned the courtroom with a $250 verdict in Lizzie’s favor. Future US president Chester A. Arthur was Jennings attorney and their lives would be forever onward intertwined.
This is the story of what happened that day. It’s also the story of Jennings and Arthur’s families, the struggle for equality, and race relations. It’s the history of America at its most despicable and most exhilarating. Yet few historians know of Elizabeth Jennings or the impact she had on desegregating public transit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781493041343
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 12/17/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 762,702
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jerry Mikorenda’s articles and op-eds have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, The Boston Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wall Street Journal as well as various other magazines. He is also a graduate of the prestigious Master’s Program at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School.

A member of SCBWI and BIO (Biographers International Organization), his history profiles are included in the 2010 Encyclopedia of New York City and on the Gotham Center’s History Blog. In 2015, the popular American Heroes Channel (AHC) program, What History Forgot interviewed the author for a segment about Elizabeth Jennings. He lives in Northport, NY.

Table of Contents

Preface: Unheralded Labors ix

Chapter I Good Old New York Stock 1

Chapter II The Wizard of Whipple City 21

Chapter III Slavery in the Empire City 35

Chapter IV Bold Men of Color 55

Chapter V Sisters in Struggle 73

Chapter VI Zack Comes to Town 87

Chapter VII City of Omnibuses 101

Chapter VIII Late for Church 111

Chapter IX The Trial 121

Chapter X The Legal Rights Association 133

Chapter XI The Great School Wars 141

Chapter XII The Civil War Comes to New York 155

Chapter XIII Nell's Window 175

Chapter XIV To Exercise Their Senses 193

Chapter XV Shadows of Tall Buildings 207

Afterlife 213

Acknowledgments 219

Notes 221

Bibliography and Sources 223

Index 235

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