Miriam ThaggertAug 8, 2022
Riding Jane Crow
African American Women on the American Railroad
University of Illinois Press 2022
Miriam Thaggert illuminates the stories of African American women as passengers and as workers on the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century railroad. As Jim Crow laws became more prevalent and forced Black Americans to "ride Jim Crow" on the rails, the train compartment became a contested space of leisure and work.
Riding Jane Crow: African American Women on the American Railroad (U Illinois Press, 2022) examines four instances of Black female railroad travel: the travel narratives of Black female intellectuals such as Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell; Black middle-class women who sued to ride in first class "ladies' cars"; Black women railroad food vendors; and Black maids on Pullman trains. Thaggert argues that the railroad represented a technological advancement that was entwined with African American attempts to secure social progress. Black women's experiences on or near the railroad illustrate how American technological progress has often meant their ejection or displacement; thus, it is the Black woman who most fully measures the success of American freedom and privilege, or "progress," through her travel experiences.