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.

More on this day


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.