In honor of Women’s History Month we salute those unsung heroes who made extraordinary contributions to society. Alongside the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, President Hazel N. Dukes had the honor of educating the crowd at the Brooklyn Museum about a black woman who refused to give up her seat long before the Civil Rights Movement and long before Ms. Rosa Parks. Her name was Elizabeth Jennings Graham.
In 1854 Graham refused to get off a horse-drawn streetcar which allowed white passengers only. The conductor tried to remove her by force but she grabbed hold on to the window frame and his coat. She was eventually removed by a police officer. Later that year she was victorious in a law suit filed against the Third Avenue Railway Company and was awarded $225 in damages. The incident enraged black New Yorkers and ignited the movement to end racial discrimination on streetcars. Third Avenue Railway desegregated their streetcars the day after Graham won her law suit, however it was several years before all other railways followed suit.
Graham is credited with setting the precedent for ending racial discrimination on streetcars. Elizabeth Jennings Graham also founded the 1st kindergarten for black children, which she ran out of her own home on 247 West 41st Street up until her death in 1901.
Her groundbreaking and heartwarming story is not well known. However, in 2007 a block on Park Row was co-named Elizabeth Jennings Place and now it was announced that her monument will stand tall next to Grand Central Station. Graham’s statue is one of four statues which will be erected around the Metropolitan area. The other 3 statues will honor women and children advocate Dr. Helen Rodriguez in the Bronx, jazz legend Billie Holiday in Queens and lighthouse keeper Katherine Walker in Staten Island.