Loring, Louis P. “Early Railroads in Boston.” The Bostonian I, no. 3 (December 1894): 299-309.
The following excerpts have been edited and transcribed from Massachusetts Rail-road Segregation, Senate no. 63, Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Senate, Feb. 22, 1842.
The Joint Special Committee to whom was committed the petition of Francis Jackson and others, and sundry other petitioners, for a law securing to colored persons equal rights in rail-road accommodation : also the remonstrance of Joseph Nunn, and sundry others, of Salem, respectfully submit the subjoined
The circumstances which give rise to these petitions, are matters of common notoriety throughout the State. While some of the rail-road corporations (as for example, the Western, Nashua, Boston and Portland, Norwich, Lowell, and Worcester,) make no distinction among the passengers, but permit every well-behaved person to purchase such ticket, whether of the second or first class, as they choose, and then to select the car and seat which suit them ; others, — which are the Eastern Rail-road, Taunton and New Bedford, and Providence, — while they in some cases demand of the colored man their highest price, place him either, as on the Salem road in a decently furnished car by himself, or as in other cases, in cars oftentimes neither decent nor comfortable, and according to circumstances, exposed to the inclemencies of the season. The petitioners ask for some action on the part of the Legislature, by which the making of this distinction between colored and other citizens, shall be forbidden by law, and prevented by penalty. They base their request, not on the supposition that the colored man is not as well treated as his white fellow-citizen, but on the broad principle that the constitution allows no distinction in public privileges among the different classes of citizens of this Commonwealth…
…That this is a violation of his rights as a citizen, is equally undeniable : — that it is a disability which would be an insult to any white man, and which the whole nation would be ready to vindicate at the expense of her best blood and greatest treasure. It is inconsistent with that part of the first article of the declaration of rights in the constitution of our State, which declares “that all men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned,” “that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property ;” and “that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.” The delay and difficulty the colored man experiences in travelling [sic] in public conveyances, frequently interfere with his acquiring property, when he wishes to pass from place to place on business. It interferes with his happiness when he travels for pleasure, and he is deprived of the society of his friends if they chance to be of a different complexion.
The only questions for consideration seem to be, whether this matter lies within the authority of the Legislature, and whether any interference on its part is called for…
…These roads exist and derive all their rights and privileges from the authority of the Legislature. They are certainly to be regarded, so far as the citizens are concerned, as public highways, to the equal use of which, on certain conditions, every citizen is alike entitled. Responsible to the Legislature for their proceedings, as appears by their being required to exhibit an annual report of their doings, they are to be regarded in some sense as public servants, and imperatively bound to use the powers intrusted to them, as much for the public benefit as their own, in accordance with the spirit of our institutions, and the laws of the Commonwealth. Any invidious distinction between different classes of citizens, in consequence of difference in opinion, sex, color, sect, or other rightful and innocent peculiarity, is manifestly opposed to the spirit of our institutions…
…Massachusetts, throughout her whole code, with one exception [militia], makes no distinction on account of color among her citizens. Her schools, her jury-box, her official situations, are all open to all complexions.
Editors note: This is not altogether true. There is documentary evidence that indicates that at the time of this report, February 22, 1842, there were at least three Massachusetts communities with racially segregated schools: Salem, Nantucket, and Boston. Salem’s classrooms were fully integrated in 1842. Nantucket’s schools were integrated in 1846 and Boston’s schools were finally integrated as the result of a law passed by the Massachusetts Legislature on April 28, 1855 that “prohibits all distinctions of color and religion in Massachusetts Public School Admission.” Ironically, this bill was passed during a time when the the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor’s Office was overwhelmingly controlled by the “Know-Nothing Party” (WDE)