A legal brief for Ida B. Wells’ lawsuit against Chesapeake, Ohio, and Southwestern Railroad Company before the state Supreme Court, 1885.
In 1883, Ida B. Wells traveled by train from Memphis to Woodstock, Tennessee, where she was working as a teacher. The conductor asked Wells to move to a different car because of her race. When she refused, she was removed from the train and sued the railroad company in 1884. The court decided in her favor and ordered the railroad company to pay damages, which they did. But they also appealed the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1885, which is documented here. Wells was represented by African American attorney Thomas Frank Cassels. The state Supreme Court decided in favor of the railroad company, reversing the earlier decision.
Transcript of Ida B. Well’s testimony:
On the trial of this case the following evidence was introduced by the plaintiff:
I am 20 years of age and unmarried, my profession is that of School Teacher and during September 1883, I was teaching a public school at Woodstock, a station on defendant’s road, ten miles North of Memphis. My salary was $30.00 a month -- On 15th September, 1883. I was in Memphis, and started to return to Woodstock - took a seat in the rear car of defendant’s passenger train that left Memphis about 4 o’clock that afternoon. When I went in the car, some half hour before leaving time the ticket office was not open - I afterwards went out and bought a ticket which read as follows:
Chesapeake Ohio & Southwestern R.R.
one continuous trip
Memphis to Woodstock.
I returned to my seat in the rear car. There were only two passenger cars in the train, two passenger car, and one baggage car. I saw one drunken white man in the front coach. I had before this time ridden in said rear car, once about July 1883. Rougher people ride in the front car than in the rear car. There was no person on the seat with me and I was the only colored person in that car. The car was not crowded. When a mile or so from Memphis, the conductor came collecting tickets, he took mine, looked at me, and returned it to me, saying he could not accept it in that car, and passed on. I was reading a news paper at the time. Directly the conductor returned to me and said that I would have to go to the coach in front, that I was in the wrong car. That he had the rear car for white people alone, and that colored people must ride in the forward coach. To this I replied, that I would not ride in the forward car, that I had a seat and intended to keep it. He said to me that he would treat me like a lady, but that I must go into the other car, and I replied, that if he wished to treat me like a lady, he would leave me alone. When we reached Fraziers, the first station, the train stopped and the conductor again came to me and said he would again ask me politely to go into the other car, and I refused to do so. He then took hold of me to carry me to the other car. I resisted him - holding on to my seat when he called for help, and two white passengers helped him to carry me out. I resisted all the time, and never consented to go. My dress was torn in the struggle, one sleve [sic] was almost torn off. Everybody in the car seemed to sympathize with the conductor, and were against me. The conductor had carried my bag and parasole [sic] etc. into the forward coach before carrying me out, and when they got me onto the platform between the cars, I got off the train refusing to go into the forward coach. The conductor asked me not to get off, but I said that I would not ride in the forward coach. There were several colored passengers in that car. I paid 30 ¢ for my ticket and still hold it. The train was known as the Covington accommodation, and run between Covington and Memphis. I also noticed smoking going on in the forward car. This car was used for colored men and white men too. There never was any smoking and drunkenness in the rear coach and sometimes colored people also rode in it.
And G. H. Clowers a colored man who said:
I am a minister. In September 1883 I was holding a camp meeting at Lucy station on defendants road [sic] 15 miles North of Memphis. I was on the train on 15th September 1883, when plaintiff was ejected from rear car; I was riding in the forward coach. There may have been 3 coaches, certainly not less than 2. The people in said forward coach where I was were rough, they were smoking, talking and drinking, very rough. It was no fit place for a lady. There were no white ladies.