The ejection of a party of Alabama African American men and women from a first class car on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad is recounted in this letter from William Jenkins of Tuskeegee, Alabama.


A Party of Colored Ladies and Gentlemen Assaulted on a Railroad - What is the Proper Redress?

TO THE EDITOR OF THE FREEMAN: - In order that the liberty-loving people of this great country may know how rapidly we Alabamians are progressing, and how far we are removed from old ante-bellum prejudices, I shall attempt to relate to you one of the many incidents which are daily happening around us. They seemed to me so very shocking when I first heard of them that I was loth to believe that any such outrages could really be enacted in any part of this boasted land of freedom, at this late day. And little did I think that I was to be one of the victims of this deep seated hatred.

In company with several young ladies and gentlemen I boarded a train at Montgomery, Ala., on my way to Selma in the same state, (on a division of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.) As we held first class tickets and could purchase no other, we thought that we had a right to ride in what was called the first class coach, which was not as good as many smoking cars that I have seen.

No sooner were we seated than we were ordered into the "Jim Crow Car," which was a filthy hole full of bad tobacco smoke, and where men (?) are allowed to enter, drink whiskey, and smoke with impunity. A dumb brute would not have ridden in it if he had been given his choice.

Our ladies were as refined and well dressed as any in this so-called first class car; nor were they any more accustomed to having smoke blown into their faces. We hesitated about changing our seats; the conductor went out and soon returned with a great burly policeman. When ordered by this great dignitary of the law (?) to either go into the no class box or get off the train, I asked by what authority he ordered us out. He replied savagely, every action showing his want of good breeding: "Because dis car is for de white folks and dat yonder one is for de niggers." Before I had time to utter another word I was jerked from my seat by two ruffians who were in the employ of the railroad company, it seems, more especially for this business, and roughly forced from the car. Mr. Warren Logan a young man of our party, who is fairer and more of a real gentleman than either one of the roughs, and a teacher in the Tuskegee State Normal School, said that he did not intend to change his seat, until better reason for our ejectment was given. He was immediately assaulted by this great Colossus of a policeman. If the police officers who are supposed to protect us become the assailants, what are we to do?

We do not seek social equality. I believe that such things are fixed by nature's great laws. But we do ask as a matter of business that we be granted the same rights which are given the Chinese, the Indians, and in fact all other races on this continent except the Negro, who has helped to make the roads upon which he cannot get a decent ride. Alabama will never be able to make much progress so long as she is blinded to her own interest by prejudice which tends to keep capital out of the State. She has yet to learn that a man is a man "for a' that," etc., regardless of his color or previous condition, over which he had no control. If we are not black and despised God made us and not ourselves. It is often said that the white men of the South are the Negro's best friend, but we who live in the South know it is absurdly false.

I speak from experience when I say the white people of Alabama, who are in favor of giving the Negro his rights are such a small minority that they dare not openly express their sentiments for fear of social ostracism.

To you, young men, who have sisters, mothers and fathers who have daughters; what do you think of a coach load of white men and women whose sense of right is so blunted by prejudice that they could sit down and see a virtuous young woman traveling alone, shamefully ushered into a den thickened by a set of vulgar men? Such a case happened a few days ago in this State. Had that first class coach been filled with the meanest and blackest Negroes in the South they never would have allowed a white woman to be treated thus.

It is often said that the South is one hundred years behind the North. If material prosperity is meant the statement may be so, but if Christianity is meant, take out a small number of progressive Southerners and the South will be just about where New England was one hundred years before the Pilgrims landed. If these people would spend just one-half the energy in material and mental development that they do in their efforts to keep the Negroes down they would be the most prosperous in the world.

William Jenkins
Tuskegee, Ala., April 21.

About this Document

  • Source: New York Freeman
  • Author: William Jenkins
  • Published: City
  • Date: April 21, 1877