Friday, March 18, 2016

History nuggets …

Hello all. It seems some of you couldn't view the image I sent earlier today, so here it is as a pdf attachment. And below is my e-newsletter again.
-Cheers, Jim
Let me share with you an outstanding story I found last week while on a research trip for my book project about the life and times of the dozen black Civil War soldiers from my old hometown of Waverly, Pa. I've reached the final years of the men's lives, 1900-1920, and was searching for information about conditions in Scranton, where a few of the Waverly vets were then living. At the time Scranton had a black newspaper, a butt-kicking weekly called The Defender, whose targets included the Jim Crow laws spreading across the South. I'd noticed a Defender item in early 1904 warning readers that if they traveled to Maryland, they'd be forced into segregated sections of trains and streetcars as part of what the Defender called "the backward movement of civilization." During one of my microfilm binges last week, I came upon this startling headline in The Scranton Republican, from Aug. 11, 1904, dateline Baltimore:
"Negresses Sit in White Women's Laps." Here's the text: "Since the adoption of the 'Jim Crow' law, the negro women have been showing their resentment of what they consider an insult to their race by plumping themselves into white women's laps in the street cars. The offenders have in all cases been young colored women. The third case happened today when Elizabeth Hall, a colored woman, twenty-two years of age, dropped into Miss Susie Stiffler's lap in a Westport car. According to Miss Stiffler's story, the negro woman stood for a while in front of Miss Stiffler, but finally sat down in her lap. A patrolman was called to quell the excitement which followed, and he arrested the woman. At the hearing the accused stated that Miss Stiffler stuck her with a long hat pin and in trying to move she fell in Miss Stiffler's lap." Elizabeth Hall was fined $5 and court costs, the report said, and a white woman sued the streetcar company for damages "for not protecting her against the assault." (An online search showed there were other protests of the Maryland law, but none so organized. A half-century before the modern civil rights movement, those feisty young women were showing the way for Rosa Parks and the lunch-counter sit-ins. By the way, that Maryland law stayed on the books all the way to 1951.)
"We Ask for an Equal Footing." None of the Waverly vets were postwar activists but at least one of their progeny was. I've uncovered a speech that Ed Keys, son of the heroic George Keys Sr., made in 1874 to the Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League. Politicians had been hemming and hawing about black rights, which, combined with some second-class treatment he'd gotten on the train ride to the convention, had Ed fired up. "We have been deserted by our friends or pretended friends!" he declared in calling for "free and impartial rights" in hotel, school and railroad accommodations: "We ask for an equal footing, that is all." (More on his plea and the political struggles of the postwar decades will be covered in my book.) 

Just Call Him Colored... Finally, I'll leave you with the image below. It appeared in The Scranton Tribune in 1902 and shows three Civil War vets. George Keys was Ed Keys's brother and had served in battle alongside their ill-fated father, George Sr.    

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