An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C

By Kate Masur | Go to book overview

3
Someone Must Lead the Way
CREATING AND CLAIMING CIVIL RIGHTS

At two o’clock in the afternoon on a late February day in 1868, Kate Brown, an employee in the Senate, left work in the U.S. Capitol and boarded a train for Alexandria, Virginia. She planned to visit a relative and return to work about an hour later. Brown chose a seat in the car reserved for white “ladies” and their white male traveling companions. But Brown, who was by most contemporary descriptions “mulatto,” had no illusions about whom the “ladies’ car” was meant for. As she later put it, she had boarded “what they call the white people’s car.”1 The alternative was the car designated for African Americans and white men not in the company of ladies. Often known as the smoking car, that car was a more promiscuous space in which people mingled in an environment with no pretensions of refinement or protectiveness. Tobacco chewing and smoking, activities from which proper ladies were supposed to be sheltered, were permitted in this general car. Brown did not care to mingle with the unruly public in the smoking car, and she believed she was entitled to ride in the ladies’ car if she chose. A man standing on the Washington platform advised her to change cars, but Brown remained in her seat and had no further trouble.2

Brown also had every intention of returning to Washington in the ladies’ car. But when she boarded the train at the Alexandria depot a short time later, a special policeman (likely a security guard hired by the railroad) indicated that she must leave the ladies’ car. She refused. As she later testified: “I told him I came down in that car, and in that car I intended to return; that I had my ticket, a return ticket, which I had bought in Washington, and I was going back in the same car; he said I could not go; I asked him why, as I had paid my fare and had come down in the same car; he said that car was for ladies; I told him then that was the very car I wanted to go in.”3 Not interested in debating, the policeman grabbed Brown and tried to pull her from the car. She held fast

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An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Maps ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Everywhere Is Freedom and Everybody Free 13
  • 2 - They Feel It Is Their Right 51
  • 3 - Someone Must Lead the Way 87
  • 4 - First among Them Is the Right of Suffrage 127
  • 5 - Make Haste Slowly 174
  • 6 - To Save the Common Property and Respectability of All 214
  • Epilogue 257
  • Notes 267
  • Works Cited 311
  • Acknowledgments 339
  • Index 343
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