Encyclopedia of African American Business History

By Juliet E. K. Walker | Go to book overview
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TAXICAB ENTERPRISES. With the beginning of the automobile age in the early twentieth century, the most successful area of transportation enterprise for blacks in both northern and southern cities was in the taxicab industry. Within seven years after Ford put his Model-T on the road in 1908, this area of enterprise was known as the jitney taxicab businesses (jitney was the term used for a nickel). It developed in the age of Jim Crow, a response not only to segregated transportation but also to the geographical expansion of the industrial city, which prevented blacks from walking to places of employment outside of the increasingly concentrated urban ghettos. Moreover, as the urban black ghettos expanded, a quick means of transportation was needed for special trips to church, shopping, medical facilities, and social events within the black communities.

Since most blacks could not afford a car, and with limited funds could not pay the amount charged by white taxi drivers, who often refused to accept them as passengers, ‘‘jitney’’ taxis met their need for inner-city transportation. Moreover, those blacks who could afford to buy a car often used them as independent cabs, as a means to increase their income. In New York, William H. Peters and Samuel Hamilton started both a taxicab and car rental company in 1916 with ‘‘two Packard automobiles, one for rental business and one taxi cab.’’ By 1930 it was reported that the company, which owned 250 specially built taxicabs and employed some 750 people, was worth almost a half million dollars investment.

In the South, the need for private automobile transportation was even more crucial. While blacks in the North had access to public transportation, this was not always the case in the South. Moreover, after the Civil War, the residential patterns of blacks in southern cities changed. During the age of slavery, blacks

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