A Civil Rights Milestone Turns 150

By:  William Loren Katz

Today is the 150th anniversary of a Civil Rights Milestone.

Months after San Francisco’s horse-powered street car companies during the Civil War, dispatched their street cars --
with orders to only accept white passengers -- African American citizens began to directly challenge this

On April 17, 1863 Charlotte Brown, a young African American woman from a prominent family, boarded a street car and was forced off. Determined to assert her rights, Ms. Brown boarded street cars twice more and twice more was ejected by the year’s end. Each time she began a legal suit against the company.

In May 1863 William Bowen, an African American, was stopped from boarding a street car. He brought a civil suit and a criminal assault suit. Their legal actions came after the African American community’s successful campaign to remove the state’s ban on court testimony by African Americans. Lifting this ban opened the legal system to challenges by African American men and women in the state.

The campaign against street car segregation was also successful -- after several years of further direct efforts and legal challenges by the African American women and men of the city.
William Loren Katz is the author of BLACK WOMEN OF THE OLD WEST
and forty other history books; his website is: williamlkatz.com