Ellen Garrison Clark

Ellen Garrison Jackson Clark (April 14, 1823 – December 21, 1892) was an African American educator, abolitionist, and early Civil Rights activist, whose defiance of “whites only” social spaces has been compared to Rosa Parks’ actions in the 20th century. Throughout her life, Clark signed petitions, including the demand for equal rights for Native Americans and desegregation of Massachusetts trains and Boston schools.

Ms. Clark was born to Jack Garrison and Susan Robbins in Concord, Massachusetts. At the time of Clark’s birth in 1823, Concord was open to previously enslaved people (Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783) and was well known for being an abolitionist’s stronghold. Her mother Susan was a founding member of The Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society and its only known Black member.

As an adult Ellen moved to Boston where she became a teacher and joined the city’s social justice community. She helped organize events and assisted with fundraisers for abolitionist and equal rights causes. n May 5th, 1866, during her tenure as a schoolteacher in Port Deposit, MD Ms. Clark and her colleague Mary J. C. Anderson were forcibly ejected from a ladies-only waiting room. They refused requests to leave in accordance with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which granted African American citizens the same rights as white citizens.[7] At the time of this event and the subsequent legal action, the Civil Rights Act had yet to be ratified – it had been vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, but the veto was subsequently overridden by Congress.

After the event, Clark wrote in a letter, “We were thrown out. We were injured in our persons as well as our feelings for it was with no gentle hand that we were assisted from that room and I feel the effects of it still”.
Intending to test train depot segregation in light of the 1866 Civil Rights act, Jackson and Anderson brought suit against the station master, an employee of the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Wilmington Railroad, who had thrown them out of the waiting room. Initially, the court case was assigned to a judge who was sympathetic to civil rights, but the station master requested a jury. The case was subsequently not mentioned again in the local media, and it is possible that Jackson and Anderson declined a jury trial, as an all-white jury would have been unlikely to convict.
Nevertheless, the case is a significant event in the history of Civil Rights activism, with many sources pointing out its resonance with Rosa Parks’ actions and legal case.

Excerpted from Wikipedia

Additional note of interest: According to the Boston Globe (5/16/24): “Over the last year and a half, residents of [Concord] an affluent, predominantly white suburb have been pressuring the local School Committee name Concord’s new middle school after Ms. Clark. A grassroots group of volunteers called Friends of Ellen Garrison formed. “Stand Up for Ellen” signs sprung up in front yards across town. At the annual Town Meeting in April, residents voted overwhelmingly in support of a nonbinding proposal to name the middle school in Garrison’s honor. But the school committee hasn’t been swayed.”