Abstract

Blending the tools of micro-history with historical Geographical Information Systems (GIS) permits us to chart the social networks and everyday journeys of black working-class women activists and the middle-class men with whom they came into contact in Reconstruction St. Louis. Social and spatial ties shaped the activism of St. Louis’ working-class women; mapping these ties reveals the links between everyday acts of resistance and organized efforts of African Americans to carve out a space for themselves in the restructuring city and make visible a collective activism that crossed class and racial boundaries.

On May 30, 1867, Susan Taylor and Frances Watson boarded two separate cars on the Missouri Railway, a street railway line in the city of St. Louis. When Taylor and Watson entered the interior of the cars, the conductors instructed them to move to the cars’ platform; the women knew “full well,” as the railway would later maintain, that “they [the railway] had set apart the front platform for Negros to ride on.” The two women pointed out that they were “ready to pay the legal fare” and argued that they should be entitled to ride within the car. Railway employees did not agree and forced them off the cars and onto the street. On June 22 and June 24, respectively, Susan Taylor and Frances Watson brought suits against the Missouri Railway claiming that the railway “illegally and without just cause” ordered them out of the cars. Taylor’s and Watson’s suits were two of four segregation cases brought before the St. Louis Circuit Court in the summer of 1867. Indeed, in the five years following the end of the Civil War, the height of radical Reconstruction in Missouri, seven working-class, African-American women brought suit against public conveyance companies alleging unfair treatment and personal injury by the employees of the railways.1

This article maintains that the city and the spatial relationships that it made possible profoundly shaped black activism and resistance struggles. To make this argument, it maps working-class women’s proximities and black activists’ “spheres of influence.” Blending the tools of micro-history with historical Geographical Information Systems (gis) permits us to chart the social networks and everyday journeys of black working-class women activists and the middle-class men with whom they came into contact. Social and spatial ties shaped the activism of St. Louis’ working-class women; mapping these ties reveals the links between everyday acts of resistance and organized efforts of African Americans to carve a space for themselves in the restructuring city and make visible a collective activism that crossed class and racial boundaries.

Streetcars and the Geography of Segregation and Settlement

When Taylor and Watson brought their cases to court, they were just two among hundreds of African Americans seeking legal redress for exclusion from public transportation in the era before Plessy v. Ferguson. Indeed, extensive scholarship documents the role that streetcars played as sites of black activism and protest. As early as the antebellum era, free blacks in northern cities protested segregation in streetcars. During the Civil War, the companies allowed black soldiers and nurses to ride in their cars, though they often reversed this practice after the war. When streetcar companies re-segregated their lines at that time, numerous African Americans, especially middle-class black women, protested their “right to ride.” By the turn the of the century, individual passengers, as well as organized protesters, challenged the legal basis of segregation and the social, cultural, and economic structures of white supremacy that enforced it.

Previous studies document in important ways the emergence of public conveyances as sites of confrontation, the links between streetcars and citizenship, and the strategies that activists used as they fought for an expanded definition of freedom in the nation’s courts. Much of this work traces the activism of middle-class African Americans like Ida B. Wells and Fredrick Douglass but often leaves underexplored the geography of streetcar conflicts and the social and spatial ties that connected the African-American community across class lines.2

Shifting settlement patterns, and developments in transportation and labor, shaped the strategies of black activists. Previous studies of African-American settlement patterns in St. Louis have suggested that, for much of the second half of the nineteenth century, African-American residents could be found throughout the city, living in “pocket settlements” rather than in a central ghetto. Massey and Denton’s study of segregation in the city echoes the pocket-settlement finding, noting that in 1860, two-thirds of African Americans lived in racially mixed neighborhoods. Table 1, Christiansen’s compilation of demographic statistics, supports Massey and Denton’s claims. In 1870, African Americans could be found living in all twelve wards where, with the exception of the more densely black Wards 5 and 8, they comprised between 2 percent and 10 percent of the population. Scholars have also noted that, as a relatively compact city, St. Louis’ commercial, manufacturing, upper-class residential, and working-class housing areas often overlapped.

Table 1
African-American Population Statistics by Ward in St. Louis, 1860–1870
 1860 african american1860 whiteward total 1860% of african american in ward 18601870 african american1870 whiteward total 1870% of african american in ward 1870% increase 60–70
Ward 1 95 21,750 21,845 0.00 1,604 32,102 33,706 0.05 4.56 
Ward 2 110 13,686 13,796 0.01 560 21,295 21,855 0.03 1.83 
Ward 3 337 10,185 10,522 0.03 753 23,110 23,863 0.03 −0.05 
Ward 4 838 14,616 15,454 0.06 1,857 29,635 31,492 0.06 0.54 
Ward 5 517 12,172 12,689 0.04 3,512 26,255 29,767 0.13 9.13 
Ward 6 394 7,664 8,058 0.05 1,770 27,421 29,191 0.06 1.31 
Ward 7 374 12,731 13,105 0.03 1,630 16,875 18,505 0.10 6.72 
Ward 8 312 22,451 22,763 0.01 7,045 19,668 26,713 0.36 34.43 
Ward 9 115 19,705 19,820 0.01 650 22,270 22,920 0.03 2.34 
Ward 10 206 22,514 22,720 0.01 1,191 19,432 20,623 0.06 5.22 
Ward 11 687 31,885 32,572 0.02   
Ward 12 832 18,789 19,621 0.04   
 1860 african american1860 whiteward total 1860% of african american in ward 18601870 african american1870 whiteward total 1870% of african american in ward 1870% increase 60–70
Ward 1 95 21,750 21,845 0.00 1,604 32,102 33,706 0.05 4.56 
Ward 2 110 13,686 13,796 0.01 560 21,295 21,855 0.03 1.83 
Ward 3 337 10,185 10,522 0.03 753 23,110 23,863 0.03 −0.05 
Ward 4 838 14,616 15,454 0.06 1,857 29,635 31,492 0.06 0.54 
Ward 5 517 12,172 12,689 0.04 3,512 26,255 29,767 0.13 9.13 
Ward 6 394 7,664 8,058 0.05 1,770 27,421 29,191 0.06 1.31 
Ward 7 374 12,731 13,105 0.03 1,630 16,875 18,505 0.10 6.72 
Ward 8 312 22,451 22,763 0.01 7,045 19,668 26,713 0.36 34.43 
Ward 9 115 19,705 19,820 0.01 650 22,270 22,920 0.03 2.34 
Ward 10 206 22,514 22,720 0.01 1,191 19,432 20,623 0.06 5.22 
Ward 11 687 31,885 32,572 0.02   
Ward 12 832 18,789 19,621 0.04   

source Lawrence O. Christensen, “Black St. Louis: A Study in Race Relations, 1865–1916,” unpub. Ph.D. diss. (Univ. of Missouri, Columbia, 1972), 84–85.

The importance of the Reconstruction years to discussions of space, race, and power is often overlooked in scholars’ views of St. Louis. African Americans’ efforts to claim urban space there was primarily expressed through the development of black neighborhoods in the later nineteenth century, and by white attempts to curtail black residential mobility through zoning ordinances and restrictive covenants in the early twentieth century.3

Spheres of Influence and Soft Power

The concept sphere of influence, as used in political geography and international relations, can illuminate how black activists’ battles over mobility engaged with socio-spatial power relations in the city. Most often employed to map regions in which a particular state has political control, the concept also facilitates examination of the boundaries of “soft power”—power not articulated by treaties or formal rules but rather a form of cultural power that individuals and groups could wield to sway social and public opinion. This study applies the sphere of influence notion to St. Louis’ most visible African-American civil-rights leaders, the men of the Missouri Equal Rights League. The connections that the League explicitly made between personal rights and journeys by streetcar, as well as the methods that it articulated to achieve its goals, suggest that attention to spheres of influence formed by soft power is especially relevant within the context of the black-activist community before enfranchisement.4

Civil Rights, Suffrage, and Public Transportation

In 1865, the newly formed Missouri Equal Rights League, led by seven prominent African-American men in St. Louis, drafted an “Address to the Friends of Equal Rights,” published in the city’s pro-republication, pro-Reconstruction newspaper, ironically titled The Daily Missouri Democrat. The address outlined the League’s justification for the enfranchisement of African-American men. Calling attention to their service in the Civil War and their birth on American soil, the League’s spokesmen “ask[ed for] only that privilege which is now given to the very poorest and meanest of white men who come to the ballot box.”

The push for African-American suffrage was a direct result of the recently drafted 1865 Missouri State Constitution, which articulated that African Americans should not be “treated under the law differently from other citizens in regard to personal rights” but did not give them the right to vote. In the minds of St. Louis’ civil-rights leaders, the constitution cemented the connections between personal liberty and enfranchisement. As the Equal Rights League continued to meet, its members singled out the right to ride in the interior of St. Louis’ streetcars as integral to the “personal rights” upheld by state law and as intertwined with efforts to secure African Americans the right to vote.5

On May 8, 1867, civil-rights leaders hosted a “mass meeting of colored people” for the “purpose of discussing the suffrage question and the rights of colored people to ride in the street cars.” Those gathered resolved to “demand equal privileges in the street cars.” In a second public meeting two weeks later, Moses Dickson, an African-American minister who had fought for the Union during the Civil War, reported his efforts to meet with the presidents of the streetcar lines. He noted that the company presidents had encouraged the African-American community to “mold the public opinion in favor of our people riding in the [street] cars,” remarking that “public sentiment might make the adoption of that [desegregation] course” possible. As their reference to public opinion would suggest, civil-rights leaders explicitly sought to wield soft power. At the end of the meeting, those assembled voted to bring about the desegregation of St. Louis’ streetcars through two avenues of soft power: “Resolved: that a committee be appointed to write and publish…upon the car injustice; and further, that our females be instructed to ride inside the cars instead of outside.”6

At their next meeting, on May 23, the League created a committee to “prepare articles for publication on behalf of the colored citizens of Missouri,” as part of its efforts to sway public opinion in favor of universal suffrage. Finally, C. G. Richardson, one of the League’s members, moved to “take steps to prosecute for damages any railroad company who may allow their employees to eject any one from the car on account of color.” The motions indicate that the League fought for equal rights through encouraging a coordinated local organization of efforts, with a dual focus on the civil courts and the court of public opinion. The individuals gathered approved the motion. Seven days later, when conductors ejected Watson and Taylor from streetcars on the Missouri Railway line, both women sued the company.7

Mapping the Space of Civil-Rights Activism

The work of determining civil-rights leaders’ spheres of influence for this article begins with the location of the black churches and the homes associated with members of the Equal Rights League (Figure 1a). The choice of sites to map reflects both scholarship documenting the importance of churches to African Americans’ civil-rights struggles, and the concrete ties between black civil-rights leaders and black churches. Of the seven African-American churches whose church leadership was identified in the 1870 city directory, five had either pastors or sextons involved with the Equal Rights League. Not surprisingly, League members who led a congregation tended to live within a few blocks of their place of work. Thus, the locations of the churches could be treated as the center of the spheres, with a buffer of a quarter-mile around each church (Figure 1b).8

Fig. 1

Black Churches and the Homes Associated with Members of the Equal Rights League and the Homes of Plaintiffs

Fig. 1

Black Churches and the Homes Associated with Members of the Equal Rights League and the Homes of Plaintiffs

A second set of quarter-mile buffers centered on the homes of the plaintiffs was created to show how the spaces of civil-rights leaders intersected with the daily movements of the black working-class women who sued the streetcar companies (Figure 1c). Recent scholarship about gender, race, and mobility has explored the comparatively longer distances that black women traveled to work, which reflected their unequal access to labor and services. However, in this instance, nothing in the historical records indicates that riding a streetcar would have been a daily occurrence for any of the plaintiffs. Indeed, the personal details gleaned from court cases and census records indicate that activists would not have been able to afford riding the streetcars regularly. Census data reveals that most of the plaintiffs involved in the streetcar suits worked from home and thus would have had no need for daily rides. In her national study of the class characteristics of black women activists, Welke mentions Mary Jane Chilton as an “exception” to the norm in having sued a public conveyance company over segregation, but, in many ways, Chilton was typical of the black women who brought suit against St. Louis’ public conveyance companies.9

The African-American Women Who Sued

Chilton, a light-skinned African-American woman, was twenty-nine years old when she brought suit against the railway. A former slave born in Tennessee, she traveled to St. Louis after the war and married Samuel Chilton, a “laborer” and former slave in 1867. Mary Jane could read but not write. She supported her family by taking in laundry and mending. The six other women who sued streetcar companies in the four years after the end of the Civil War shared similar characteristics. Four of them (Chilton, Taylor, Jane Reese, and Caroline Williams) did laundry or mended clothing at home to support themselves and their families. Although the census gives Chilton’s employment as “keeping house,” according to her own testimony, she labored at home: “I was dressmaking or washing or anything that I had to do…principally I do work at my own house.”10

Census records list the employment of Williams and Taylor as “laundress.” Reese’s petition for damages cited her work as a seamstress, an occupation that she was unable to perform because of injury. Martha Turner and Lucy Anne Davis are listed in the 1870 census as “keeping house.” The census records indicate that neither woman had domestic help. Hence, “keeping house” would have included daily labor on behalf of their families including hauling water, tending fires, cooking, cleaning and caring for children. Chilton and Davis were former slaves, whereas Turner, Taylor, Reese, and Williams were all born in slave-holding states. Of the five women whose records are traceable through the census, only Williams was able both to read and write. Two could read but not write (Taylor and Chilton), and two could neither read nor write (Turner and Davis). All the women were between the ages of twenty and forty-two, Williams being the eldest. The census data collectors categorized four of the seven women as black and three (Chilton, Williams, and Taylor) as mulatto.11

Details from the court cases support the analysis that the seven plaintiffs were from the working class. The last page of Davis’ court-case file noted the railway’s petition that her case be dismissed if she could not demonstrate the ability to pay court costs. The plaintiffs, the defense contended, “are insolvent.” Fifteen years after the initial petition, as Chilton’s appeal was working its way through the Missouri Supreme Court, the clerk asked Everett Pattison, the Chiltons’ lawyer, to file new briefs because the court had lost the originals. Writing back to the recorder’s office, Pattison stated, “They [the Chiltons] said that in view of their poverty and that they had once paid for briefs and an oral argument, they did not feel that they could afford to pay an additional fee and to pay for printing of briefs.”12

Four Spheres of Influence

The two sets of quarter-mile buffers were overlaid—one around the plaintiffs’ homes and one around the churches led by members of the Equal Rights League—and adjusted so that the overlapping areas reflected spatial markers and boundaries, such as streetcar lines and local markets (Figure 1d). Four distinct areas emerge from these methods, one of which contains three overlapping spheres due to the proximities of St. Paul’s Chapel, the 8th Street Baptist Church, the First Colored Methodist Church, and the Tabernacle Baptist Church with each other. Two of the four spheres are anchored by churches led by Equal Rights League members—Henry H. White at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, S. P. Anderson at the 8th Street Baptist Church, and William P. Brooks at the Third Baptist Church. Leaders at churches in the other two spheres had ties to league members. Emmanuel Cartwright, pastor at the First African Baptist Church, worked closely with league member James Milton Turner to establish a school for black children in the city. Turner had been educated in a school founded by John Berry Meachum, Cartwright’s predecessor.13

Figure 2 illustrates the mix of individuals who populated these spheres and the variety of institutions found there. The first sphere centered on the 8th Ward, just north of the courthouse, between St. Charles and Washington Ave., that extended from 4th to 14th Street. The area was home to four African-American churches—the First Methodist Colored Church on Morgan Street, Saint Paul’s Chapel, and the 8th Street Baptist Church, both of which were on Green Street, and the Tabernacle Baptist Church on the corner of 15th and Gay Streets. Eight of the fifteen leaders of the Equal Rights League lived in the area. Also located there were a number of African-American organizations, including the United Brothers of Friendship, the St. Louis Union Society, the Robert Small Benevolent Society, the Young Men’s Dramatic Club, the Freeman’s Savings and Loan Association, and the lodge of Western Star Encampment of the Knights Templar, a black Masonic lodge. Although settlement patterns do not necessarily follow ward boundary lines, Figure 1, which documents the growth in the African-American population by ward between 1860 and 1870, supports the argument that the first sphere, which encompassed Ward 8, served as a center for the black community in St. Louis. As the census data displayed in Figure 1 show, by 1870, more than 35 percent of residents in Ward 8 were African-American. In 1860, only 1.39 percent of the residents reported as African American.

Fig. 2

Spheres of Influence

Fig. 2

Spheres of Influence

The second sphere included an area west of Washington Square, bordered by the railroad tracks on the south and Market Street on the north. The area, which was the site of the Third Baptist Colored Church, was also home to Equal Rights League members Francis Robertson and H. Dorsey. By 1870, African Americans comprised more than 10 percent of the residents in Ward 5, which encompassed most of the area in the sphere.

The third sphere included the homes and businesses of antebellum free blacks detailed in Clamorgan’s The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis, an area south of Market Street along the river anchored by the first African Baptist Church on Almond Street between 4th and 5th Street and Colored School Number One on Cedar Street between 3rd and 4th Street. The final sphere centers on the Third Colored Baptist Church on the corner of Chambers and 10th Street. Bordered on the east by Broadway, west by 14th Street, north by Benton Street, and south by Mound Street, the area was primarily residential.14

Emancipation Parades and Celebrations

The argument that the physical spaces described above represented the arena in which St. Louis’ civil-rights leaders exercised their cultural power finds confirmation in the geography of the black community’s emancipation parades, its most visible actions on the streets of the city. In the years after the Civil War, African-American civil-rights activists used emancipation celebrations to assert their right to the city streets, to foster a sense of community among the black population, and to assert the importance of emancipation to national history. For five years after the Civil War, St. Louis hosted yearly celebrations of the Missouri State Emancipation Ordinance in January, West Indian Emancipation in August, and, in later years, the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment in April. All these celebrations involved lengthy parades, which followed routes mapping the boundaries of St. Louis’ growing African-American population. Figure 3 traces the routes of the parades.

Fig. 3

African-American Parade Routes

Fig. 3

African-American Parade Routes

As evidenced on the map, most of the parades began in the spheres of influence just south and north of the city center. The starting points were not coincidental. Newspaper accounts of parade planning report that African Americans decided to meet at prominent community churches and local association meeting rooms to form the procession. Moving south, the routes traveled along the city’s principal streets and through the pre-Civil War enclave of free blacks to their destination at city parks and beer gardens in the south. The route of the march took the parade past sites that were important to the story of African-American emancipation, including the St. Louis courthouse where Dred Scott sued for his freedom, Bernard Lynch’s slave market, and the offices of the city’s newspapers.15

Organizers intended the parades to influence two audiences. The parade’s route through African-American spheres bespoke the goal of promoting solidarity among the black population of the city. Speaking to an assembled crowd in Concordia Park after the 1867 West Indian emancipation parade, Equal Rights League member George Wedley reminded listeners, “United we stand, divided we fall.” His speech equated racial solidarity with political power: “So long as they [African Americans] were united so long would they wield a great amount of power in the community to which they belong, and that power they would use to enable them to vote for the men who had given them human liberty.” Significantly, civil-rights leaders’ calls to action included both men and women. Wedley concluded his speech by “begging” the “ladies of the different associations who had come to celebrate the auspicious day…to do all in their power to increase the number of members of each association.”16

Parades and other public celebrations also served as instruments through which the Equal Rights League members and their supporters publicized their civil-rights battles, and victories, to both black and white residents of the city. As Schwalm observed, parades were “explicitly politicized events” in which the black community not only celebrated the abolition of slavery but also “demanded redress.” Marching in the “grand celebration of the 15th Amendment,” black men from the first ward carried a banner that proudly proclaimed, “With equal rights in the Senate, why not on the Iron Mountain Railroad? The right is ours, and we demand it.” Two-and-a-half months after this particular celebration, Chilton began her suit against the Iron Mountain Railroad for discrimination.

The Equal Rights League and the Working Class

Also visible in the various celebrations were members of the Equal Rights League, who often led the efforts to organize the parades. Henry McGee Alexander, a founding member of the Equal Rights League, served as the grand marshal of the “Free Missouri” emancipation celebration in 1866, and other founding members Samuel Helms, Colonel Francis Robinson, Dr. George Downing, and Charlton Tandy served as his deputies. League members Robinson and Anthony Lawson, also served as the chairman and Grand Marshal, respectively, for the Fifteenth Amendment celebration. Rev. Edward Woodson spoke at the 1867 commemoration of the emancipation of the West Indies. Among those speaking alongside league members Richardson, Rev. White, and Simon Anderson at the spring 1867 commemoration were John Colby and Pattison, the two men who were to represent Taylor, Watson, Williams, and Chilton in their streetcar suits.17

The locations of the homes of women who brought suits and of the members of the Equal Rights league (illustrated in Figure 2) also shed light on the social and spatial networks that marked spheres of influence. Given that few working-class black women, with the exception of nurses and servants traveling with white employers, could afford to travel on streetcars regularly, how could such working-class women—like Davis, a former slave who could neither read nor write—have found themselves on the front lines of a highly visible battle between streetcar companies and the Equal Rights League in the years after the Civil War? Those women bore little resemblance to the middle-class, educated, black women and men who were publicly involved in the League’s causes—women like Ophelia Woodson, daughter of Equal Rights League Member Rev. Edward Woodson, who served as the League’s “Goddess of Liberty” in its April emancipation celebration parade.

The leaders of the Equal Rights League were educated and professional middle-class men—ministers (Dickson, White, Anderson, and Woodson), merchants (Alexander), physicians (Downing), and barbers (Preston Wells, Robinson, Wedley, and Helms). Several of them who had been free before the war chose to enlist in the Union army (Tandy, Robinson, Charles P. Johnson, Woodson, and Jeremiah Bowman). All of them are listed in the 1870 census as being able to read and write.18

As Figure 4 demonstrates, working-class black women and middle-class black civil rights leaders lived near each other. The city directories reveal that five women who brought suit against streetcar companies lived and worked within a quarter-mile of a church led by an Equal Rights League member. The sphere of influence of working-class black women and middle-class black civil-rights leaders overlapped. Working-class women’s daily-activity patterns would have brought them in contact with the homes, churches, and meeting sites of civil-rights leaders. Descriptions of local meetings also suggest that, while black middle-class men organized and ran the Equal Rights League in St. Louis, women were involved and invested in the League’s affairs and larger civil-rights efforts in the city.

Fig. 4

Plaintiffs’ Homes and Civil-Rights Leaders’ Homes

Fig. 4

Plaintiffs’ Homes and Civil-Rights Leaders’ Homes

When prominent black activist John Mercer Langston spoke at Turner Hall in the fall of 1865, the Daily Missouri Democrat described the hall as “nearly filled” with “colored people of the city, of both sexes.” The Equal Rights League was open to both men and women and the League’s initial meeting at St. Paul’s Chapel was “crowded to its utmost capacity with colored people of both sexes.” At the follow-up meeting a month later, the Democrat observed that “five eighths of the persons present” were “colored ladies.” During their meeting to plan a celebration in honor of the Fifteenth Amendment’s ratification, the men in attendance voted down a motion to “deny women the right to vote” in apparent appreciation of their support from the “wives and children” of the “colored voters” who would later “throng” the “principal thoroughfares” to celebrate the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment. Aside from its lengthy “address to the friends of equal rights,” a published essay targeting a readership of white legislators, the League advocated for its agenda at large public meetings where its members gave speeches. Working-class women did not need to be literate to attend and to hear the message. In addition, the numerous parades and other public celebrations made the issue of civil rights conspicuous to African Americans who could not follow the court cases in the newspapers.19

The social connections that tie the seven women who sued streetcar companies to the high-profile individuals involved in civil-rights struggles in St. Louis also indicate that the spatiality of working-class women’s lives shaped the streetcar suits. The geographical proximity of working-class women and civil-rights leaders mirrored, and likely fostered, a social proximity. As previously noted, four of the women shared the same lawyers. By 1866, Pattison, a young lawyer who moved from Massachusetts to St. Louis after the Civil War, had partnered with Colby, another young lawyer born in New York, to form Pattison and Colby Attorneys-at-Law.

Both men were involved in the Equal Rights League’s streetcar campaign. At the May 9 meeting of the League, which produced a resolution to address the “rights of colored people on the street cars,” Pattison gave a speech in which he vowed that the “course of proceeding …would not be discontinued until they had obtained all the rights which they had solicited.” Pattison spoke again at the May 25 meeting, as did Colby, who gave a speech that the sympathetic reporters of the Daily Missouri Democrat described as “short and eloquent.” Davis and Reese were both represented by lawyers Tomas Peabody and John Morris, who, like Colby, were in their late twenties when they arrived in St. Louis from New York after the Civil War. Turner, the first woman to bring suit, was the only woman of the seven plaintiffs whose lawyers did not represent more than one streetcar case. John Coonley and George Parkhurst, Turner’s lawyers, had moved to St. Louis after the war but had left by 1870 to seek their fortunes elsewhere.20

The Court Cases and Social/Spatial Networks

Race and class shaped the social and spatial networks that working-class women used as resources in their court battles. Only three of the seven court cases list the names of individuals who served as witnesses for the plaintiffs, but the witnesses mentioned were members of social and familial networks developed and rooted in a place-based black community. For example, Agnes Munday, one of Davis’ witnesses, also lived in Davis’ building. City directories list all three of Davis’ witnesses as either black or mulatto. Neptune Williams testified on behalf of his wife and Alice Chilton testified on behalf of her mother. Chilton’s testimony also hints at the cross-class connections between working-class women and middle-class black activists. Woodson, a League member, who officiated at the marriage of Mary Jane and Samuel Chilton in February of 1867, also served as a witness for the plaintiff during the trial at which he confirmed the Chiltons’ marital status.21

Social and spatial networks also overlapped elsewhere in the Chilton case. When questioned in cross-examination about previous times when she had ridden in the ladies’ car, Chilton noted that “Elder White” had ridden the ladies’ car with her once when she went to Belmont. Elder White was most likely Rev. White, the member of the Equal Rights League and pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, who lived on North 12th Street, four blocks north of the Chilton’s Morgan Street residence. Additional evidence suggests that Samuel and Mary Jane knew Rev. White. In 1869, Samuel Chilton made a deposit on behalf of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in the newly formed Freedman’s Savings and Loan Association. Chilton’s lawyer belonged to the advisory board of the savings association. The connections between working-class women and League activists demonstrate the ways in which class and gender intersected with race and space to shape working-class activists’ networks of support.22

 

 

The historical legacy of the seven working-class black women who sued public-conveyance companies in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War is difficult to assess. The verdicts of the cases testify to both the court’s grudging acceptance of African-American freedom and the limits of Reconstruction-era civil rights. Taylor, Watson, Williams, and Chilton all won their cases, which awarded them 1 cent and costs for their troubles. When Reese failed to appear in court, the judge dismissed her case and ordered her to pay costs to the defendants. Similarly, the railway company’s attorney had Davis’ suit dismissed through a petition demanding the court to order her to provide a security deposit for costs. As early as June 1867, the pro-Reconstruction Daily Missouri Democrat proclaimed, “All the street railway companies have rescinded orders excluding colored people from seats in their cars,” only to announce the next day that they were “mistaken.” Even after the Fifteenth Amendment granted St. Louis’ African Americans the right to vote, conductors still ejected black women riders. The “street car question” seemed to fade from view after the 1870s, probably due to the demise of the Equal Rights League and the influence of the city’s German population in local and state legislatures, which restructured the Republican Party to favor Liberal Republicans rather than Radical Republicans. The shift marked a turn away from the matter of civil rights.23

The fleeting nature of the cases in St. Louis might have caused historians to dismiss them as small-scale skirmishes undertaken by individuals and unrelated to larger civil-rights narratives. The Spring 2017 exhibit of the Missouri History Museum, “#1 in Civil Rights: The African-American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis,” documented the “street car struggle” of the Reconstruction era, calling attention to Williams’ suit as a singular act of resistance. As others had done before, the exhibit gave dubious credit to Tandy for instigating the first organized effort to end streetcar segregation in the 1870s. The apocryphal story of Tandy leading a boycott of St. Louis streetcars appears to be a local legend perpetrated in part by the summary of his life that accompanies his papers in the archives of the Missouri State Historical Society, even though no newspaper account corroborates it. Bestowing such a distinction on him overlooks the contributions of working-class black women to civil-rights movements. Equally important, it also divorces the streetcar battles from the geography of the city.24

The early twentieth century saw St. Louis become embroiled once again in spatialized racial conflict. In 1913, a committee of white men drafted a proposed ordinance for the “Legal Segregation of Negroes in St. Louis.” The initiative passed in 1916, only to be overturned in court the following year. However, local real-estate offices quickly turned to racial covenants to ensure residential segregation. In the century that followed, St. Louis witnessed segregation, redlining, and the precipitous rise of a culture of policing—as well as decades of black resistance, often carried out in the courts—all white attempts to control black mobility.

This article maintains that re-reading the archival material within a geographical framework can illuminate relationships unacknowledged in printed sources, broadening historians’ understanding of how city spaces can influence the shape of black resistance. Recovering the overlooked history of working-class black women who made streetcars and other forms of black mobility public arenas of political contestation in St. Louis brings into sharp relief the long history of black women’s vital contribution to the struggle for civil rights and the ways in which it indelibly marked the work of future generations.

Notes

1 

“Answer to Amended Petition,” January 13, 1868, in Susan Taylor v. The Missouri Railroad Company, October 1867, Case Number 6083, St. Louis Circuit Court Case Files, Office of the Circuit Clerk-St. Louis, Missouri State Archives-St. Louis, Office of the Secretary of State (hereinafter msa-sl); “Petition for Damages,” June 22, 1867, in Abraham Watson and Frances Watson v. The Missouri Railroad Company, Case Number 6082, St. Louis Circuit Court Case Files, msa-sl. Sharon Romeo highlighted four of these cases in Gender and the Jubilee: Black Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship in Civil War Missouri (Athens, 2018), 119–122.

2 

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896); Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship before the Civil War (Chapel Hill, 2016); Eric Foner, “Rights and the Constitution in Black Life during the Civil War and Reconstruction.” Journal of American History, LXXIX (1987), 863–883; Kenneth W. Goings and Brian D. Page, “African Americans Versus the Memphis Street Railway Company: Or, How to Win the Battle but Lose the War, 1890–1920,” Journal of Urban History, XXX (2004), 131–151; Robert Cassanello, “Avoiding ‘Jim Crow’: Negotiating Separate and Equal on Florida’s Railroads and Streetcars and the Progressive Era Origins of the Modern Civil Rights Movement,” Journal of Urban History, XXXIV (2008), 435–457; Gabriel A Briggs, “‘Tried by Fire’: The African American Boycott of Jim Crow Streetcars in Nashville, 1905–1907,” in idem, The New Negro in the Old South (New Brunswick, 2015), 114–133; Jason L. Bates, “Consolidating Support for a Law ‘Incapable of Enforcement’: Segregation on Tennessee Streetcars, 1900–1930,” Journal of Southern History, LXXXII (2016), 97–126; William Hine, “The 1867 Charleston Streetcar Sit-Ins: A Case of Successful Black Protest,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, LXXVI (1976), 110–114; Blair L. M. Kelly, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v Ferguson (Chapel Hill, 2010); Michael Kahn, “Rights of Passage: The Integration of Philadelphia’s Streetcars and Contested Definitions of Public Space 1857–1867,” in Angel David Neives and Leslie M. Alexander (eds.), We Shall Independent Be: African American Place Making and the Struggle to Claim Space in the United States (Louisville, Colo., 2008), 375–392; Roger A. Fischer, “A Pioneer Protest: The New Orleans Street-Car Controversy of 1867,” Journal of Negro History, LIII (1968), 219–233.

3 

Lawrence O. Christensen, “Black St. Louis: A Study in Race Relations,” unpub. Ph.D. diss. (Univ. of Missouri, Columbia, 1972), 97, 100; Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the American Underclass (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), 19–59; Eric Sandweiss, St. Louis: Evolution of an American Urban Landscape (Philadelphia, 2001); Bryan M. Jack, The St. Louis African American Community and the Exodusters (Columbia, 2007), 139–142; Belanger, “A Perfect Nuisance: Working Class Women and Neighborhood Development in Civil War St. Louis,” Journal of the Civil War Era, VIII (2018) 32–63; James Neal Primm, “The Economy of Nineteenth-Century St. Louis,” in Eric Sandweiss (ed.), St. Louis in the Century of Henry Shaw (Columbia, 2003), 103–135; Antonia F Holland, “African Americans in Henry Shaw’s St. Louis,” ibid., 51–78.

4 

Suzanna Hast, Spheres of Influence in International Relations: History, Theory and Politics (New York, 2014); Heino Nyyssönen, “Spheres of Influence: A Few Reflections on the Concept,” Corvinus Journal of International Affairs, I (2016), 42–57; Gary R. Kremer, James Milton Turner and the Promise of America: The Public Life of a Post-Civil War Black Leader (Columbia, 1991) 19–24.

5 

“Address to the Friends of Equal Rights,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 14 Oct. 1865; General Assembly House of Representatives, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Missouri General Assembly, Adjourned Session 23 (Jefferson City, Mo., 1866), 842.

6 

“Mass Meeting of Colored People,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 9 May 1867; “Meeting of the Colored Citizens,” ibid., 18 May 1867.

7 

“Meeting of Colored Citizens,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 25 May 1867. For more information about St. Louis’ African-American civil-rights leaders, see Kremer, James Milton Turner and the Promise of America, 19–24; Adam Arenson, “Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Legacies,” in The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (New York, 2010), 154–177; Jack, St. Louis African American Community, 127–137; Holland, “African Americans in Henry Shaw’s St. Louis,” 67–71.

8 

Kelly, Right to Ride, 9; Elsa Barkley Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Public Culture, VII (1994), 107–146; Tera Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass., 1997); Lee VanderVeld, Mrs. Dred Scott (New York, 2009), 226; Romeo, Gender and the Jubilee, 126. For the churches and their officials, see Richard Edwards & Co., Edwards’ Annual Directory to the Inhabitants, Institutions, Incorporated Companies, Business, Business Firms, Manufacturing Establishments, etc., in the City of Saint Louis (St. Louis, 1870).

9 

Only the homes of five of the seven plaintiffs could be located with certainty. The decision to draw quarter-mile radii around the homes of the plaintiffs follows assumptions made in an earlier study of journey-to-work distances in Philadelphia between 1850 and 1880, in which researchers in the Philadelphia Social History Project matched more than 3,000 residents to their nearest potential employers. Their findings suggest that most professionals and tradesmen worked within a half-kilometer of their homes. The study concluded that, given the cost of transportation for blue-collar workers, most laborers also lived within close walking distance of their homes. See Theodore Hershberg, et al., “The Journey-to-Work: An Empirical Investigation of Work, Residence and Transportation, Philadelphia, 1850–1880,” in idem (ed.), Philadelphia: Work, Space, Family and Group Experience in the 19th Century: Essays Toward an Interdisciplinary History of the City (New York, 1981). They also found that “the average unskilled, semiskilled, and even skilled worker could not afford the streetcar fare on a daily basis,” estimating that only 17% of workers, or 7% of the total population, would have ridden on the cars regularly. See Hershberg, Harold Cox, Dale Light, Jr., and Richard Greenfield, “The Journey to Work: An Empirical Investigation of Residence and Transportation, Philadelphia 1850–1880,” in Hershberg (ed.), ibid., 128–173.

For further research suggesting that mid-nineteenth-century cities were walking cities, especially for the laboring classes, see Sam Bass Warner, Jr., The Urban Wilderness: A History of the American City (Oakland, 1972), 82–83; Stuart M. Blumin, The Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City (New York, 1989), 165–175; Barbra Y. Welke “When all the Women Were White and All the Blacks Were Men: Gender, Class, Race and the Road to Plessy 1855–1914,” Law and History Review, XIII (1995), 314.

10 

Before the Civil War, many free black women earned their living as laundresses, like Chilton, Williams, and Taylor. See VanderVeld, Mrs. Dred Scott, 195.

11 

Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom, 56–57. For information about the occupations and race of the plaintiffs, see “Testimony of Mary Jane Chilton 10 December 1872,” in Chilton v. Iron Mountain Railroad Railway, St. Louis City Court April Term, 1870 Case Number 6043, St. Louis Circuit Court Case Files, msa-sl; “Petition Filed for Plaintiff,” June 21, 1867, in Jane Reese v. Missouri Horse Railroad Company, October 1867, Case Number 6043, St. Louis Circuit Court Case Files, Box 215, Folder 8, msa-sl; 1870 U. S. Census, St. Louis Ward 7, St. Louis, Missouri; Roll: M593_817; Page: 673A; Family History Library Film: 552316; 1880 U. S. Census, Saint Louis, St. Louis (Independent City), Missouri; Roll: 717; Page: 214A; Enumeration District: 012; Family History Library Film.

12 

“Petition filed for the Defendant” N. D. in Anderson Davis and Lucy Ann Davis v. The Missouri Rail Road Company, June 1869, Case Number 12726, St. Louis Circuit Court Case Files, msa-sl; “Petition filed for the Defendant,” Sept. 13, 1870, in Chilton v. St. Louis & Iron Mountain Railroad 114 Mo. 88 (1893), St. Louis Circuit Court Case Files, msa-sl.

13 

In a study of nineteenth-century neighborhood boundaries in Albany, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Newark, geographers Seth Spielman and John Logan suggested that “major urban thoroughfares are logical dividing lines between districts” (“Using High-Resolution Population Data to Identify Neighborhood and Establish their Boundaries,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, CIII [2013], 80). Proceedings of the Colored People’s Educational Convention held in Jefferson City, Missouri, January 1870; George E. Stevens, “History of the Central Baptist Church, 1846–1926,” Manuscripts, University of Missouri–St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, Collection slz8, 12, State Historical Society of Missouri.

14 

Christensen, “Black St. Louis,” 106; Julie Winch, The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America (New York, 2011); Cyprian Clamorgan (ed. Winch), The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis (Columbia, 1999; orig. pub. 1830); Romeo, Gender and the Jubilee, 11–38.

15 

Elsa Barkley Brown and Gregg D. Kimball, “Mapping the Terrain of Black Richmond,” and Shane White, “It was a Proud Day,” in Goings and Raymond Mohl (eds.), The New African American Urban History (Thousand Oaks, 1996), 73–76, 41–42; Brian D. Page, “Stand by the Flag: Nationalism and African-American Celebrations of the Fourth of July in Memphis, 1866–1887,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, LVIII (1999), 284–301; Caleb McDaniel “The Fourth and the First Abolitionist Holidays, Respectability, and Radical Interracial Reform,” American Quarterly, LVI (2005), 129–151; Leslie Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (Chapel Hill, 2009); “The Fifteen Amendment Mass Meeting of the Colored Citizens of the Fifth Ward Celebration Monday,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 8 April 1870; “Anniversary of West Indian Liberation,” ibid., 2 Aug. 1867; “The Emancipation Jubilee,” ibid., 15 Jan. 1867; “Negro Emancipation–Freedom in the West Indies, Anniversary Celebrated in St. Louis—Credible Display Made by Colored Citizens,” ibid., Aug. 2, 1870; “A Glorious Jubilee: Grand Celebration of the 15th Amendment by the Colored Men of St. Louis,” ibid., 12 April 1870; “Anniversary of West Indian Liberation,” ibid., 2 Aug. 1867. For a discussion of African-American involvement in the 1878 Veiled Prophet Parade, see Jack, St. Louis African American Community, 148–149.

16 

“Anniversary of West Indian Liberation,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 2 Aug. 1867; Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora, 179; Romeo, Gender and the Jubilee, 122–123; Kremer, James Milton Turner and the Promise of America, 17.

17 

Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora, 6; “A Glorious Jubilee,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 12 April 1870; “Free Missouri Emancipation Celebration,” ibid., 12 Jan. 1866; “The Fiftieth Amendment,” ibid., 8 April 1870; “Anniversary of the West Indian Liberation,” ibid., 2 Aug. 1867; “Mass Meeting of Colored People,” ibid., 9 May 1867; “Meeting of Colored Citizens,” ibid., 18 May 1867.

18 

Missouri Republican, 12 April 1870. For more information about the Equal Rights League, see John W. McKerley, “‘We Promise to Use the Ballot as We Did the Bayonet’: Black Suffrage Activism and the Limits of Loyalty in Reconstruction Missouri,” in Jonathan Earle and Diane Mutti Burke (eds.), Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border (Lawrence, 2013), 211; idem, “Citizens and Stranger: The Politics of Race in Missouri from Slavery to the Era of Jim Crow,” unpub. Ph.D. diss. (Univ. of Iowa, 2008); for studies about working-class geographies, Melissa Gilbert, “Race, Space, and Power: The Survival Strategies of Working Poor Women,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, LXXXVIII (1998), 595–621; Virginia Parks, “Rosa Parks Redux: Racial Mobility Projects on the Journey to Work,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers, CVI (2016), 292–299; Selima Sultana. “Commuting Constraints of Black Female Workers in Atlanta: An Examination of the Spatial Mismatch Hypothesis in Married-Couple, Dual-Earner Households,” Southeastern Geographer, XLIII (2003), 249–259; Susan Hanson and Geraldine Pratt, “Job Search and the Occupational Segregation of Women,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, LXXXI (1991), 229–253; Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom, 115–116.

19 

Although neither parishioner lists for the churches Equal Rights League members led nor newspaper reports of the League’s activities that mention individual women appear to exist, the participation of black women in these political meetings further documents a trend identified in Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere,” 119; “Meeting of the Colored People Movement toward Colored Suffrage Speech of J. M. Langston of Ohio,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 28 Nov. 1865; “Mass Meeting of Colored People,” ibid., 9 May 1867; “Equal Rights Meeting,” ibid., 14 June 1867; “Mass Meeting of Colored Citizens,” ibid., 9 March 1870; “A Glorious Jubilee: Grand Celebration of the 15th Amendment by the Colored Men of St. Louis”; “Address to the Friends of Equal Rights,” ibid., 14 Oct. 1865. For scholarly chronicles of the activities of the Equal Rights League in Missouri, See Kremer, James Milton Turner and the Promise of America, 19; McKerley, Black Suffrage Activism, 210–216.

20 

U.S. City Directories, 1822–1995, available at https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/2469/; 1870 U.S. Census, St. Louis Ward 11, St. Louis, Missouri; Roll: M593_821; Page: 446A; Family History Library Film: 552320; “Massing Meeting of Colored People,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 9 May 1867; Meeting of the Colored Citizens,” ibid., 25 May 1867; 1870 U.S. Census, St. Louis Ward 5, St. Louis, Missouri; Roll: M593_814; Page: 884B; Family History Library Film: 552313; 1870 U.S. Census, St. Louis Ward 5, St. Louis, Missouri; Roll: M593_815; Page: 60A; Family History Library Film: 552314; 1880 U.S. Census, Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 194; Page: 138D; Enumeration District: 115; 1870 Census, Oswego Ward 3, Oswego, New York; Roll: M593_1073; Page: 152B; Family History Library Film: 552572; 1900 U.S. Census; Buffalo Ward 21, Erie, New York; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0172; FHL microfilm: 1241031. The similarities in the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ ages and background, and the fact that a few of them appear to have moved out of the city by the 1880s, suggest that they might have been Radical Republicans, part of a community of northern “carpetbaggers” who came to St. Louis looking for opportunities and left as the political influence of the Radical Republican party began to wane. See Andrew L. Slap, The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era (New York, 2006).

21 

1870 U.S. Census, St. Louis Ward 7, St. Louis, Missouri; Roll: M593_817; Page: 673A; Family History Library Film: 552316; Edwards & Co., Edwards’ Annual Directory; “Testimony of Alice Chilton,” in Chilton v. Iron Mountain Railway; “Summons to Serve as Witness for the Plaintiff Agnes Munday,” in Anderson Davis and Lucy Ann Davis v. The Missouri Rail Road Company, June 1869, Case Number 12726, St. Louis Circuit Court Case Files, msa-sl; “E.S Woodson minister of the gospel did on the 7th day of Feb 1867 unite in Holy bonds of matrimony Mr. Samuel Chilton and Miss Mary Jane Steward both of the city,” in Chilton v. Iron Mountain Railway (1872); U.S., Freedman’s Bank Records, 1865–1871, available at https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/8755/.

22 

According to Daily Missouri Democrat, 4 Aug. 1868, the St. Louis Branch of the National Freedman’s Saving and Loan Company opened at 506 North 6th Street, between Morgan and Franklin Streets. The advisory board included Enos Clark and Pattison, as well as several prominent African-American citizens.

23 

Taylor v. Missouri, Watson v. Missouri, Williams v. Bellfountain, Chilton v. Iron Mountain, Reese v. Missouri Railway Company (1867), Davis v. Missouri Railway Company (1869); “Railroad Equality,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 4 June 1867; “Colored People Not Allowed on Street Cars,” ibid., 6 June, 1867; Chilton v. Iron Mountain Railroad; “Local News,” Daily Missouri Democrat, 8 July 1870; “Women Pitched Off a Street Car,” ibid., 5 Aug. 1879. For the rise of the Liberal Republicans and the party’s turn away from civil rights, see Arneson “Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Legacies,” 187–198; Holland, “African Americans in Henry Shaw’s St. Louis,” 71–73; Kremer, James Milton Turner and the Promise of America, 18–26; Kristen Anderson, “German Americans, African Americans, and the Republican Party in St. Louis, 1865–1872,” Journal of American Ethnic History, XXVIII (2008), 34–51; McKerley, Citizens and Strangers, 122–136.

24 

The Charlton Tandy Papers are available at https://shsmo.org/manuscripts/stlouis/s0135.pdf; Jack, St. Louis African American Community, 35; Colin Gordon, Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (Philadelphia, 2008).