Right to Ride

Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson

By Blair L. M. Kelley

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 5 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7101-0
    Published: May 2010
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-9581-8
    Published: May 2010
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8391-9
    Published: May 2010

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2010 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award, Association of Black Women Historians

Through a reexamination of the earliest struggles against Jim Crow, Blair Kelley exposes the fullness of African American efforts to resist the passage of segregation laws dividing trains and streetcars by race in the early Jim Crow era. Right to Ride chronicles the litigation and local organizing against segregated rails that led to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 and the streetcar boycott movement waged in twenty-five southern cities from 1900 to 1907. Kelley tells the stories of the brave but little-known men and women who faced down the violence of lynching and urban race riots to contest segregation.

Focusing on three key cities--New Orleans, Richmond, and Savannah--Kelley explores the community organizations that bound protestors together and the divisions of class, gender, and ambition that sometimes drove them apart. The book forces a reassessment of the timelines of the black freedom struggle, revealing that a period once dismissed as the age of accommodation should in fact be characterized as part of a history of protest and resistance.

About the Author

Blair L. M. Kelley is associate professor of history at North Carolina State University.
For more information about Blair L. M. Kelley, visit the Author Page.


"Narrates the stories of courageous but obscure men and women who faced lynching to challenge segregation. . . . Kelley causes a reexamination of the period described by historians as the 'age of accommodation.'"--The Courier

"Detailed and panoramic. . . . Kelley's must-read telling of [the protestors'] stories finally does them more indelible justice than the old, fading newspaper accounts from either side that were the only authoritative source of the story until now."--Virginia Libraries

"Within her simply, yet elegantly written work, Kelley offers a number of important insights to the fields of African American, southern, urban, and civil rights history. . . . Should be required reading for scholars and undergraduate and graduate students, but it would also be accessible and rewarding for non-academics as well."—Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"The age of [Booker T.] Washington is most frequently remembered as an age of accommodation, when black people . . . cowered beneath the descending shadow of Jim Crow. . . . Blair Kelley alters our understanding of this era. . . . [Her] reassessment of the nadir encourages us to measure accomplishment with a long view, to judge first our willingness to sacrifice and refuse to denounce as cowards those who fail today so that we can win tomorrow."—The Nation

"Blair L. M. Kelley's remarkable monograph is the first book on the initial black resistance to laws segregating trains and streetcars. . . . Kelley has constructed detailed case studies. . . . Gives valuable new insight into the character of the 'nadir' generation."—Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"The first comprehensive study of the streetcar boycott movement. . . . An important contribution to our understanding of the long Civil Rights Movement and may be the first author to place its origin in the antebellum North. . . . Exceptional, clear and persuasive. . . . Compelling and fresh. This book and its arguments will be around for a long time and will be the foundations of future studies of segregation and transportation for years to come."—Left History

Multimedia & Links

Follow: @profblmkelley on Twitter.

Read: Kelley's blog Real Historians Do Real Things at thisweekinblackness.com.

Read: Kelley's guest posts on the UNC Press Blog.

Listen: "The State of Things" radio interview with Kelley on WUNC.

Listen: On This Week in Blackness, Kelley's weekly podcast Historical Blackness tackles a variety of important issues regarding race in America from our past to our future.

Watch: Kelley's TEDxNCSU presentation on race relations in America here.