APRIL 28, 1867

Credit: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority

Two years after the Civil War ended, a Black painter named William Nichols took a seat on a “whites-only” streetcar in New Orleans. The driver ordered him off. Nichols refused. The driver tried to drag him off. Nichols went limp, and police arrested him for disturbing the peace. 

On the day of his trial, spectators packed the courthouse, only to see the judge dismiss all charges against Nichols, who countersued the driver for assault. In protest, Black passengers flooded the streetcars, which resulted in them halting for hours. 

On May 8, the city ordered the cars desegregated. The success in New Orleans paved the way for the desegregation of streetcars in Nashville, Richmond, Charleston and Philadelphia. These protests helped lead to civil rights including the right of equal access to public institutions — until a new wave of white supremacy took place, reinstituting racial segregation in streetcars in New Orleans in 1902.

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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.