Brutes’ Work

January 30, 1897


A defiant “colored” woman refuses to sit in the waiting room for black passengers in South Carolina and is taken to jail for demanding a place in the waiting room of a train station among white passengers.


[Atlanta Constitution, Jan21, ‘97]
When the Southern train arrived in the union depot from Chattanooga at 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon it brought a female revolutionizer of the southern customs as regards the color line.
She was yellow, of comely figure, and rather nicely dressed in a black fur cape, black hat with feathers, and brown traveling dress. Her face wore a determined expression, like as if she had some great duty to perform. She stepped off the car with a frown, because the conductor did not assist her from the platform, and with the sangfroid of the queen of Sheba, inquired of an officer for the waiting room.
That Colored Waiting Room
Being directed to the right, where the colored folks wait, she went toward the room. At the door, she stopped and surveyed the inside. Her nose suddenly went skyward, and with an expression of utter disgust at the surroundings she turned suddenly about and started for the main waiting room in the other part of the shed.
Before entering the door, she fazed inside here, too, with the same doubtful expression. Advancing to the middle of the room, she took out an immaculate silk handkerchief from her corsage and delicately brushing the dust from a seat beside several white ladies, spread out her skirts peafowl fashion, and sat down.
Attracted Attention
By this time the swell lady had attracted a good deal of attention to the waiting rooms. Everybody was wondering who she was.
Presently Officer Harper, who was patrolling his beat on the street outside, paused at the door of the waiting room and glanced at the unusual spectacle inside. He at once decided it was his duty to put her out, but realized he would have a tough job of it, for the woman would make two of him and the tussle might end like the proverbial monkey and parrot difficulty.
But Harper summed up all his courage and approached the woman with about fifty people eagerly gazing on the performance. She gave him a withering glance from her sparkling eyes that went through his slender frame like a cold chill.
The Officer’s Invitation
“Madam,” said he, “you had better go back to the colored waiting room, where you belong.”
The woman looked daggers at the officer, and replied with a kind of Yankee-South Carolina accent:
“I prefer, sir, to remain where I am”
“But the law does not allow colored people in this room.”
“I don’t care what your law allows, I am going to stay just where I am, and I dare you to lay your hands on me.”
Harper was stunned affront, and retired to the street, bent on summoning assistance, and planning another attack. Soon Policeman Hollis came up and joined him. The two approached the woman again, who was by this time trembling with indignation.
Came as a Missionary
“Well, madam,” said Harper, “you’ll have to go to the other room. We wish to treat you kindly and politely, but you must go.”
“I won’t go,” she said, jumping to her feet. “I expected this when I came south. This is the way you treat the colored people down here, and I am one of them who won’t stand it. You policemen and southern people think you can run over us, but you can’t. I came here determined to have my rights, and to reform the south, and I am going to do it. I am just as good as you white people, and I propose to show you that I can’t be run over in such a manner. I have got a right in this waiting room, and I propose to stay.”
Another Comes to Help
By this time another officer arrived on the scene, and the irate woman was asked to go again. On refusing she was grabbed by the arms and urged forward. But she bucked. Her duskey fists shot out and landed on one of the officers’ head. She fought those three men for some moments with all her strength. Finally, officer Harper had to fairly carry her out by putting his arms around her waist from behind before they could get her out.
A patrol wagon was hastily summoned and she was given a free ride to the station house. Where she gave her name Mrs. A. A. Smith. She was locked up in a cell.
Mrs. A.A. Smith in Court
At 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon Mrs. A. A. Smith was ushered into the presence of Judge Andy. She seemed to have lost some of her anger, but not her pride. She gazed disdainfully at the motley throng gazing at her. H.E. Malone, well-known colored lawyer, was present as her attorney.
The arresting officers were present, one of whom gave a graphic account of the woman’s conduct and arrest.
He brought out very fully her stated intention of reforming southern customs.
“Where are you from?” asked Judge Andy.
“Pennsylvania,” was the calm reply, every syllable carefully accented.
“Where are you going?”
“To South Carolina.”
Why She Objected
“Why didn’t you go to the colored waiting room where you belong?”
“Because the place was simply too dirty and filthy for a respectable person to stay.”
“There were other Negroes in there, weren’t they?” Do you think yourself too good to associate with your own race?”
“Not a bit of it,” came the quick reply. “I never was ashamed of my color, but I have always been used to respectable places to stay in.” Here she explained at length she thought she had a perfect right to enter the main waiting room, and meant to disobey no law. Officer Hollis told what the woman had said about reforming the south, and disregarding color lines.
The Judge’s Rejoinder
“Well, I’ll tell you right now that you can’t come down here and kick up any such racket,” said Judge Cathoun with some feeling. “I don’t think that waiting room was a whit too dirty for you- not a bit, and if you can’t stay in your place when you come here I’ll make you do it. You may be allowed to take such liberties in the north, but you can’t do it here”
Lawyer Malone made a short speech for his client, stating if he had thought she had come here to reform the southern customs he would not have taken her case, but was satisfied she had not intentionally violated any law.
Judge Calhoun took this view of it finally and announced he would turn the woman loose.
No Respect for a Lady of Color
“Well Judge,” she said, “will you please make them clean that waiting room?”
“No, I won’t,” replied the judge quickly, “but if you ever go back into the white people’s room I will clean you out mighty quick, and don’t you forget it.”
Mrs. A. A. Smith then walked out of the courtroom, and was soon surrounded by several prominent local citizens, who seemed to be ashamed of the treatment their distinguished visitor had been subjected to, and made profuse apologies. She was conducted back to the depot with great eclat, preferring to stand in the corridors instead of entering either waiting room until a 4 o’clock train bore her South Carolina.
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Upper Left Quadrant

Contributed By

Brian Schrott


“Brutes’ Work,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed June 20, 2024,