William Still, Darby, and the Desegregation of
Philadelphia Streetcars
Presented by John Haigis using materials gathered from " A Brief Narrative of the Struggle for the Rights of the Colored People of Philadelphia in
the City Railway Cars and a Defence of William Still relating to his agency touching the Passage of the Late Bill, Etc. Read before a Large Public
Meeting Held in Liberty Hall, Lombard Street Below Eighth April 2, 1867" published by Rhistoric Publications, Maxwell Whiteman, Editor
The West Philadelphia Passenger Railway Company was chartered April 28, 1857 and was the second street railway to be
chartered in Philadelphia. Streetcars drawn by horses first came to Darby on 24 December, 1858 along nearly the same route
as followed by SEPTA"s Rt. 11 today, but people of color were not allowed to ride the cars, "
except they chose to stand on the
front platform with the driver
." (A Brief Narrative, Pg. 3)
As Frederick Douglas noted with scorn in 1862, "Colored persons, no matter how well dressed or well-behaved, ladies or
gentlemen, rich or poor, are not even permitted to ride on any of the many railways through that Christian City
."(A Brief Narrative,
William Still, successful African-American coal merchant and eloquent leader and recorder of the Philadelphia Underground
Railroad movement, began his campaign for the rights of colored people to ride on the cars in 1859 with an article in the
American and United States Gazette,
asking why, in the "City of Brotherly Love," should those who are taxed to support highways
be rejected from those very highways. He pointed out the inherent decency of the colored population with the large number of
colored churches, Sabbath schools, public and private day schools, beneficial societies united for mutual support, neat three
story brick homes and respectable, tax-paying merchants and others.
In 1861, Still made a motion to the Executive Committee of the Social, Civil, and Statistical Association on which he served, to
draw up a petition in favor of the right to ride the cars. Still estimates the number of visits made to bankers, editors, judges,
merchants, ministers, lawyers and other civic leaders to be "not less than 1000" and by 1862 had gathered the signatures of
some 360 prominent Philadelphians, including Quakers who would ride on the front platform in solidarity.
When the petition was presented to the Board of Railway Company Presidents, two out of some eighteen or twenty signed, and
two or three others expressed themselves in favor of the petition but did not sign.
One of the more eloquent appeals occurred in the winter of 1864 as thousands of wounded colored soldiers were brought to
army hospitals such as Satterlee General in West Philadelphia (now Clark Park) or Summit Hospital, located at 69th and
Woodland in Paschallville
"The fifteen hundred wounded soldiers who lay in pain at the Summit and Satterlee hospitals a few weeks since received but few
visits from their colored brethren, simply because the rules enforced on these cars would not allow decent colored people to ride,
and eight or nine dollars per day (the usual charge for carriage hire) was beyond the means of the masses to pay. Yet we repeat,
by the regulations  of the city passenger railways, not one mother, wife or sister could be admitted, even to see a United States
soldier, a relative, although the  presence and succor  of such mother, wife, or sister might save a life." (A Brief Narrative, Pg. 10)
Still reported "The cars do not yield yet...Well what next, said I. True, the Companies seemed considerably disturbed by our
continued wearying then. And one line, the West Philadelphia and Darby Road, informed me through its president, Mr. Ellis that
its board had acted on our petition and had unanimously agreed to admit all colored people without distinction.
(A Brief
, Pg. 11)
Eventually, in 1867, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an Act prohibiting discrimination on the lines and a letter to the Editorr
of the National Anti-Slavery Standard  from Alfred H. Love speaks of the struggle.  "Some of  us had refused to ride for nearly a
year....Some made the sacrifice to ride on the front platform...and even in storms, our dear friend Lucretia Mott, now so ill, has
taken her stand beside them in that exposed position" (from a letter in the Swarhmore College Peace Collection)

William Still's struggle for human dignity continued. In 1872 he published the classic "The Underground Railroad."  William Still
died in 1902 and is buried at
Eden Cemetery, on Springfield Road near Darby.
Darby Railway Company Fares (PDF
File) from the collection of Ed Springer
Stock Certificate