Rebuke of the Eastern Railroad Company, for their Treatment of Colored Passengers

Northern railways continued to discriminate against African American passengers and are rebuked in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Rebuke of the Railroad Eastern Railroad Company, for their Treatment of Colored Passengers.

A Bill being before the House, a few days since, authorizing the proprietors of the Eastern railroad to amend their wharves, Mr. Bradburn, of Nantucket, availed himself of the occasion to rebuke those proprietors for their invidious and unjust treatment of colored persons traveling on that road.

Mr. Bradburn said he had ever done all in his power, as a member of the Legislature, to promote the interests of the various railroads in the Commonwealth. But he should vote against the bill now before the House, heartily in favor railroads, and sincerely desirous of promoting their prosperity, as he was. And he would tell the House why. The proprietors of the Eastern railroad, he was told, made an odious and an unjust distinction in their treatment of passengers, on account of mere differences of complexion. (A laugh - for the house seemed utterly unprepared for such an objection.) That railroad was built, in part, by the credit of the State; a credit, which was constituted by the labor and capitol of the colored, in common with those of the uncolored, citizens of the Commonwealth. Yet the former, though in reality owners, to a certain extent, of the Road, were treated by those proprietors as though they came not within the pale of humanity. It was, therefore, that he could not, and would not, give his vote to confer any additional advantages upon that Corporation, which, by its unjust treatment of a portion of its citizens, has rendered itself utterly unworthy, not only of additional favors, but of those which it had received from the Legislature.

Mr. Rogers, of Salem, remarked, that the gentleman from Nantucket, labored under a mistake. Colored people, he said, were treated as well as others by the proprietors of the Eastern railroad. They were furnished with as good accommodations as any, though separate cars were assigned them.

Mr. B. rejoined, that he would be glad to listen to any thing calculated to justify the conduct of the proprietors of the Eastern railroad. But the remarks of the gentleman from Salem had not removed his objections. What right had the proprietors of that railroad to compel persons of color to occupy separate cars. Sometime since, he was told, a well educated, talented, and gentlemanly person, a minister of the gospel of Christ, who had taken a seat in one of the cars on that road, was seized by a ruffianly "conductor," and thrust out of the car, as though he were a dog, merely because his skin was somewhat dark, though not much darker either than that of some members of this House. He thanked heaven, that such conduct was not now sanctioned by the proprietors of any other railroad in this Commonwealth. It was unworthy of human beings. And it was a manifestation of one of the basest of all imaginable forms of hypocrisy. Slaveholders might come among us with their degraded slaves, and none objected to the presence of the latter in our railroad cars, our stagecoaches, and steamboat cabins. But when a free citizen of Massachusetts, having a colored skin, dares to step into one of these vehicles, which slaves may occupy without offence, why, our nobility turn up their noses, and talk of odor! While the colored man is a slave, our most delicate aristocrats can sit beside him in any of our public conveyances; but make him a freeman, and pah, they cannot sit within three miles of him! Out upon such arrant hypocrisy, and upon all who sanction it. Instead of voting to grant further favors to the proprietors of the Eastern railroad, he would, if he could, take from them their charter, and send the whole concern to perdition. Judging those proprietors by their treatment of negroes, he should deem them a set of impersonations of the hyena.

A Virginian, who was in the House, when Mr. B. made the above remarks, said to a member, that they were well deserved, and laughed at the affected squeamishness of our people in relation to riding, in our public conveyances, with colored persons, on whom, by our constitution and laws, we have conferred the same rights and privileges that are secured to other citizens.

About this Document

  • Source: The Liberator
  • Author: William Lloyd Garrison
  • Date: March 19, 1841