APRIL 17, 1863
As darkness fell on San Francisco, a young Black woman named Charlotte Brown walked a block from her home on Filbert Street and took a seat on the “whites-only” horse-drawn streetcar. She and her family had moved to California from Maryland, a part of the city’s burgeoning Black middle class. Her father, James E. Brown, was an anti-slavery crusader and was a partner in the Black newspaper, Mirror of the Times.
When the conductor came to collect tickets, she handed him the ticket she had purchased, only for him to refuse to take it. “He replied that colored persons were not allowed to ride,” she later testified. “I told him I had been in the habit of riding ever since the cars had been running. I answered that I had a great ways to go and I was later than I ought to be.”
The conductor asked her several times to leave. Each time she refused. When a white woman objected to her presence, the conductor grabbed her by the arm and forced her off the streetcar. She boarded twice more with the same result and sued. Two years later, a jury awarded her the huge sum of $500 in her day (streetcar tickets were just 5 cents), and a judge ruled that barring passengers on the basis of race was illegal. He wrote in his ruling that he had no desire to “perpetuate a relic of barbarism.”
Brown’s victories paved the way for the official end of racial discrimination on streetcars in San Francisco and beyond.