Meet the woman who helped desegregate Cincinnati’s streetcar system
Let me introduce you to the Fossetts, one of Cincinnati’s most influential couples.
Her husband, Peter Farley Fawcett, was a priest, a member of an elite catering family, and a secret conductor of the Underground Railroad.
The couple were among Cincinnati’s most prominent black citizens before, during, and after the Civil War. They are getting their dues after a long wait.
In December, A Ohio Historical Marker for the Fossetts family It was placed outside First Baptist Church at 3640 Roll Ave. In South Cumminsville, the church the couple founded in 1870.
There is so much history between them that Sarah’s story is told on one side of the marker, and Peter’s story on the other.
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Get to know Sarah Fawcett
Sarah Fawcett’s role as a civil rights pioneer is a story that needs to be told.
Sarah was one of Cincinnati’s historic women, and my wife, Christine Suess, and I have been featured in our work “10___Women” project. Back in 2019. Our goal was to highlight some of the overlooked or forgotten women in our history. We are so happy that Sarah Fawcett is getting more attention to the historical marker.
Not much is known about her early life. According to a brief overview in “The Colored Citizens of Cincinnati” by Wendell B. DabneyPublished 1926 Sarah was born on June 26, 1826, to Rufus and Judith Mayrant, in Charleston, South Carolina. She was likely born into slavery, but there is no information on how she was freed.
At a young age, she was sent to New Orleans to study under a French scalp and hair specialist, who made her a skilled hairdresser.
It was brought to Cincinnati around 1840 in the care of Abraham Evans Gwynn, part of a wealthy Cincinnati family. (His daughter, Alice Claypole Gwen Vanderbilt, wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, had Gwen Building At 602 Main Street, it was built and named in her father’s honor.)
Through Gwen’s family connections, Sarah found the opportunity to be a sought-after hairdresser for the women of the Cincinnati community.
It is also known that Sarah was a close colleague of Levi’s coffina white leader of the Underground Railroad who was secretly helping slaves in Kentucky escape to freedom.
In 1854, she married Peter Fawcett, who was also an Underground Railroad employee.
Thomas Jefferson’s house servant to the Underground Railroad conductor
Peter’s story was the subject of a column a few years ago.
She was born into slavery in 1816 as a housemaid in Thomas Jefferson MonticelloAs a child he remembers the visits of James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
“I had a good job as a housemaid, got tips and all that kind of stuff,” Fawcett recalled during a lecture he gave at the Ninth Street Baptist Church in 1898. “Suddenly, after the death of my old master, Thomas Jefferson, I was put in prison. The auction was banned and sold for $500 to strangers.
When Jefferson died in 1826, he released only five people in his will, including Peter’s father, who was able to buy out his wife, and five of Peter’s siblings. So he sold Peter and fled. He was captured again, then sold to friends who sent him to his family, who moved to Cincinnati.
He joined the family catering business (his mother, Edith, is credited with bringing Jefferson’s favorite French cuisine to Cincinnati), while secretly working as an Underground Railroad conductor.
During the Civil War, Fawcett served as A Captain in the Black Brigade Which helped protect Cincinnati under siege by Confederate forces in September 1862.
Take a stand and refuse to leave
Before the war and before Thirteenth Amendment After the abolition of slavery, Sarah Fawcett fought her own battle for racial freedom.
On Monday, January 16, 1860, she stepped onto a platform to board a Cincinnati streetcar operated by the City Passenger Railroad Co. The white conductor ordered her to leave, but she refused, demanding her right to ride the tram. He then “forcibly removed her from the car,” according to the lawsuit in the case “The Weekly Law Journal.”
Sarah accused band leader Henry Kemper of assault and battery.
The case was presented to the police court a few days later. The Cincinnati Gazette and Cincinnati Commercial reported on the case on January 20. (No mention found in The Enquirer.) Fawcett misspelled Sarah’s name in court reports and newspaper stories.
The newspaper reported that Sarah “testified that she parked the car on Third Street, across from… Pete BurnettWhen the train conductor stopped for her and said that she could not board. She told him that her impression was that it was public transportation and that she was not committing any crime. Then the commander started hitting her on her chest and shoulders. She is still clinging to the car and refuses to get out. Then the train conductor asked the driver to move on. When the cars had almost covered their distance, the train conductor pushed them away.”
James J. Robbins, president of the City Passenger Railroad Company, testified that he issued orders to conductors not to allow “colored persons” onto streetcars, even though that was not listed in the company’s official printed rules.
“The case was one expressly brought up for the occasion, where a woman was pushed forward by a group of colored people, who were in court at the time, to test the right of the company to exclude them from cars,” the defense lawyers said. “, Al-Tijari reported.
Judge David P. Lowe ruled in favor of Fawcett.
Judge Lowe stated, “It is not alleged that the passenger was in any way disorderly, that she refused to pay her fare, that there was no accommodation for her, that any of the passengers objected to receiving her, or that there was no objection to her Whatever except her skin.
The actions to remove them were found to be assault and battery but not harmful. He fined Kilmer $10 plus costs (which would be $344 today).
Sarah filed a civil suit, and according to Sean E. Andres V Queens of Queen City Blogger, got $65 ($2017 today) for refusing her delivery, but no compensation.
Sarah’s case led to the desegregation of the city’s streetcars for black women and children. However, black men had to wait until Isaac Young won judgment in a similar case in 1866, after he and his wife were forcibly removed from the Cincinnati Streetcar Company’s line.
Judge Bellamy Storer — who knew Sarah and her case as Abraham Gwynn’s former law partner — awarded Young $800 ($17,000 today) in damages and vacated the segregation of streetcars entirely.
The Fossetts were recognized for their charitable work
The Fossetts became well known for their charitable work in later years. As a new minister, Peter founded First Baptist Church in 1870 and served as pastor for 31 years without pay while he and his wife paid off church debts.
Sarah was particularly active with the orphanage for colored youth and was elected director, serving in that position for nearly 25 years.
Peter Fawcett died in 1901. Sarah died in 1906. Both are buried Union Baptist Cemetery at Price Hill, the oldest black cemetery in Hamilton County.
The Fossetts stood up and refused to give up, a testament to how much impact one or two people can have on the world around them.
This article originally appeared on the Cincinnati Enquirer website: Black History: This Woman Helped Desegregate Cincinnati’s Streetcars