The Jim Crow Car

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tags: racism, civil rights, Jim Crow, segregation, Northern racism

n a late summer’s day in 1838, the Eastern Rail Road threw a celebration to announce itself to the world. At noon in East Boston, after an hour of hurrahs from several hundred investors, a swollen crowd jammed itself into three trains for the 13 1/2-mile ride to Salem, Mass. — where a festive dinner for 600 awaited at the railroad’s new depot. Separated by half a mile, the locomotives clattered along at a leisurely pace, allowing the passengers plenty of time to admire the many engineering marvels — overpasses, embankments, stone walls — that work crews had fashioned in the excavated cavities of rock and earth. Newspaper correspondents representing nearly every town along the route were on hand to chronicle the history-making moment.

The tail end of the opening-day procession trundled into Salem just ahead of an evening downpour. The disembarking passengers then joined a who’s who of the state’s business and political elites. Leading figures from the Whig and Democratic parties mingled with the presidents of the state’s other railway companies, who had come to salute the latest member of their growing club.

To match the grand occasion, the Eastern’s ruddy-cheeked president, George Peabody, had prepared a speech brimming with ambition. The railroad would not be merely a means of transportation, Peabody boldly predicted. It would be a force for social change. Steam locomotion would bind together the sprawling United States and help “subdue local prejudices.” A rail-connected nation, east to west, north to south, would send “a whole people moving onward together in a career of unexampled prosperity, bearing in their front the standard of Equal Rights.”

Read entire article at Washington Post

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