Street Cars and Civil Rights in Reconstruction-Era St. Louis

Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM
Centennial Ballroom G (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Elizabeth Belanger, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Elizabeth Belanger’s research explores seven segregation cases involving African-American women and public transportation that played out in St. Louis’s city courts in the years betwen1865 and 1871. Situating the cases within the larger historical context of the influx of black refugees into St. Louis during the war, the project explores the changing racial and class demographics in the city before, during and after the war and the extent to which street cars and other modes of public transportation became staging grounds for larger civil rights battles. While previous accounts of street car activism have positioned cases as often isolated incidents undertaken by elite African American women, the cases in St. Louis attest to the rise of civil rights activism among working-class African American women. Using GIS technology to map the spatial context of these cases: the locations of St. Louis’s African American neighborhoods, the tracks of street car lines, the spatial trajectories of defendants’ journeys and the location of African- American institutions at the time, the project reveals how working-class African American women contributed to the nature and form of oppositional politics in St. Louis.
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