top of page

Elizabeth Jennings, The 1st Woman to Refuse to Give Up Her Seat

If there were no Elizabeth Jennings Graham, we might have never had Rosa Parks. Born 1827 in New York – the same year slavery ended in the state – Jennings Graham came from a prominent African-American family. Her father, Thomas Jennings, is the first Black person to hold a U.S. patent in their name and both of her parents were active abolitionists. In 1854 Jennings Graham was running late to church where she was the organist. She boarded a streetcar that was segregated and the conductor demanded she exit. Jennings Graham refused until the conductor summoned the police who forcibly removed her. Her story ignited protests among the African-American community. Frederick Douglas wrote about her in his newspaper and her story went national. Jennings Graham followed up her refusal by demanding her right in court. She sued the streetcar company and won, effectively forcing New York street cars to desegregate.


bottom of page