Anna Williams–her civil rights

Mrs. Anna Williams lived in Rockford, and in 1869, purchased a train ticket to go from Rockford to Belvidere. She purchased a first class ticket for the Ladies Car.  The Ladies’ Car kept women–and some gentlemen–apart from travelers who were either drinking, or profane, or less refined. Mrs. Williams, an African-American, was refused admittance by the brakeman, who told her she could ride in the men’s  car, even though she had purchased a first class ticket.

By October 1869, Mrs. Williams had brought a legal suit against the Chicago & Northwestern Railway.  The case was tried before the Illinois Circuit Court and the Illinois Supreme Court. She was awarded $200 in damages, because the company had no seating regulations for black passengers, there was no consistency in barring or including blacks, and the higher price had been paid for seating in the Ladies’ Car.

The case was decided in 1870. One of the quotes was “The mere fact that, under the rules and regulations of the company, a certain car in their passenger train has been designated for the exclusive use of ladies, and gentlemen accompanied by ladies, will not justify the exclusion of a colored woman from the privileges of such car, upon no other ground than that of her color.”

” So where a colored woman was refused admittance to a ladies’ car, solely on account of her color, and was directed to take a seat in another car, which was set apart for, and mostly occupied by men, but which she declined to do, insisting upon her right to be admitted to the ladies’ car, and the evidence justifying the conclusion that the brakeman, in excluding her from that car, did so in a very rude manner, and in the presence of several persons, it was held, a verdict of $ 200 recovered by the woman against the company, was not excessive. “

The $200 in 1870 would be worth $3,564.92 in 2016.



Sources: Rockford Daily Gazette, Oct. 21, 1869, LexisNexis Library express.