(1830-1901) Elizabeth Jennings was a New York City schoolteacher whose 1854 defiance of a streetcar conductor’s order to leave his car helped desegregate public transit in New York City. With the help of her prominent father, the wealthy businessman Thomas L. Jennings, she filed and won a lawsuit against the streetcar company. Thomas L. Jennings, the first African-American to win a patent, owned a large clothing store and co-founded the famous Abyssinian Baptist Church. He used most of his profits in the fight against slavery and racism, founding a Legal Rights Association, which fought for civil rights through the courts. The association’s first case was his daughter’s. The judge in her case issued a ruling that prohibited discrimination in public transit against blacks. Chester A. Arthur, who later become the 21st President of the United States was her attorney. While she won her suit, only after blacks won another anti-discrimination lawsuit in 1859, did New York City’s public transit substantially desegregate. Later, with school’s remaining segregated, Jennings founded New York City’s first black kindergarten. — Sources: Speak out in Thunder Tones, Letters and Other Writings by Black Northerners 1787-1865 and The New York Times.
2. Elizabeth T. Greenfield, 1817-1876
Greenfield probably began singing in Philadelphia churches after moving there in 1836. According to legend, she discovered her talent after she attended a concert given by Jenny Lind, “the Swedish Nightingale.” According to Martin Delany:
“She went home. She stole an opportunity when no one listened; let out her voice, when [behold!] she found her strains four notes above Sweden’s favored Nightingale. She descended, when lo! she found her tones three notes below! Now she ranks second to no vocalist in the world. The Black Swan is singing to fine fashionable houses and bids fair to stand unrivalled in the world of song.”
In 1851, after performing a concert in Buffalo, she gained national fame and earned the name “Black Swan,” a moniker likening her to the “White Swan,” the Irish-born Catherine Hayes. In 1853, she performed in New York City for an audience of 2,000 at Metropolitan Hall, which barred other blacks from attending the concert. Greenfield’s appearance at Metropolitan Hall was so controversial that it prompted arson threats against the theater. One New York news organization decided against running its profile of the singer, because of the hatred she inspired. That same year, Greenfield performed in London and went on to do other shows in England and Ireland, including an 1854 concert for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. After her time in Europe, she returned to Philadelphia. Becoming a vocal teacher, she occasionally gave concerts. — Sources: New York Historical Society, African-American Registry, Speak out in Thunder Tones, Letters and Other Writings by Black Northerners 1787-1865
3. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, 1825-1911
5. Mary Joseph Marshall Lyons
Original Article Found On DominionNewYork.com