Accessible Archives Inc.

Page Image  |  Close

Collection: African American Newspapers
Date: January 29, 1885
Location: Philadelphia, PA


Judge Pierce, of the Circuit Court of Shelby County in Tennessee, in the recent case of Ida Wells v. The Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railway Company, expounded the law of Tennessee, in regard to any discrimination against colored persons when traveling as passengers upon the railroads in that state. The judge held that the act of April 7th, 1881, and the amendatory act of May 20th, 1882, make it the legal policy of the state to allow a complete separation of whites and blacks when traveling upon the railroad trains in the state, and at the same time provide that there shall be no discrimination against either race in the way of equality of accommodations. Both races in this respect are to be treated precisely alike. This, so far as traveling on railroads is concerned, is substantially similar to the Civil Rights Act passed by Congress in 1875, which the Supreme Court of the United States has declared to be unconstitutional, because in excess of the powers delegated to Congress.
It appears that the railroad company, in the case before the court ran two cars between Memphis and Covington- one of them for white persons and the other for colored persons. The cars themselves were substantially similar, yet the car assigned to colored people was practically the smoking car, to which the whites and the blacks alike were in the habit of resorting for smoking and drinking. The company had nominally adopted a rule against such discrimination; yet the rule were merely nominal, because not enforced. White passengers understood it to be nominal, and, hence, when they wanted to smoke and drink they went into the car assigned to colored people. Adequate means were not used to secure the same first-class and orderly passage to the colored passengers occupying that car as were accorded to passengers in the car assigned to white people. This state of facts was shown on the trial of the case.
Miss Ida Wells, who was a colored teachers, purchased an ordinary ticket of the only kind sold by the company, for her passage, and took her seat in the rear car, which was assigned to white people, and was the only colored person in that car. The conductor, when collecting the tickets, saw here there, and directed her to take her seat in the forward car, which was the car for colored people. This she declined to do. The conductor, when the train stopped at the next station, seized her and forcibly removed her from the car because she refused to ride in the forward car, where she had reason to believe that smoking and drinking were allowed. Though a colored woman, she was a lady of culture and refinement, and a school teacher by profession, and objected to being huddled into a car occupied by rough and boisterous men, who were smokers or drunkards. She preferred to travel in a car in which the decencies and proprieties of social life were duly observed; and this was not in practice in the car assigned to colored people.
The court, a suit being brought against the company by Miss Wells for her ejection from the car in which she was seated, held, that upon this state of facts, she was wrongfully ejected, because she was thereby refused first-class accommodations for which she had paid in the purchase of her ticket, and to which she was entitled under the law. The court gave judgment in her favor to the amount of five hundred dollars, as the damages for her unlawful seizure and ejection. Every impartial man will say amen to this just judgment; and if all similar indignities to colored people were treated with the same sort of justice, it would not be long before railroad companies would take the hint, and pay all due respect to the rights of colored passengers. We do not believe in separate cars for the two races any more than we do in separate schools for the children of the two races, or in negro pews in the house of God. But if the law allows a separation of the races on railroads, then it should see to it that there shall be no discrimination against either race in the matter of accommodation and comfort.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in the Railroad Company, v. Miles, 55 Penn St. 209, held, that in the absence of any special statutes on the subject, railroad companies, regarded as common carriers, though they might so classify their passengers as to separate the black and white races, were, nevertheless, bound by the rules of the common law to provide that each class shall have comfortable, safe and convenient accommodations, not inferior in any of these respects to those enjoyed by the other. They have no right to discriminate against colored passengers simply because they are colored.
So, also, in The Railroad Company, v. Williams, 55 Ill. 185, it was held by the Supreme Court of Illinois, in 1870, that "public carriers until they furnish separate seats, equal in comfort and safety to those furnished for other travelers, have no right to discriminate between passengers on account of color, race or nativity alone." This was said in the case where a respectable colored woman was refused a seat in the ladies' car, and where there was no accommodation offered her on that train equal to that furnished to white women. The court condemned the refusal as in the circumstances inconsistent with the law that regulates the duties of public carriers.
The popular prejudice which suggests or makes a negro car necessary on railroads is a shame and a disgrace to the white people of this country. The colored people are citizens of the United States, and of the state in which they reside; and when they travel they ought to be treated in all respects just as white people are treated. This is due to the rights and principles of a common citizenship. If colored persons can sit as jurors with white persons and vote with whites at the same ballot box, why may they not travel with the whites in the same car? TO discriminate against them because of their color is simply contemptible, and will so be regarded when justice rules the thoughts of men.- The Independent.