Streams

Maya Angelou Was San Francisco's First Black Streetcar Conductor

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 09:56 AM

Maya Angelou, the poet, writer, and performer who passed away at the age of 86, also has a place in civil rights transportation history: at the age of 16, she says she became San Francisco's first black streetcar conductor.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she said "I loved the uniforms. So I said 'that's the job I want!'"

But when she applied for the job, at first the office wouldn't give her an application. On the advice of her mother, she essentially staged a sit-in.

"I sat there (at the office) for two weeks, every day. And then after two weeks, a man came out of his office and said 'come here.' And he asked me 'why do you want the job?' I said 'I like the uniforms.' And I said 'and I like people.' And so I got the job."

This would have been around 1944.

We reached out to San Francisco's MTA, which directed us to this post. And the transit agency isn't so sure about Angelou's claim. "Hiring records no longer exist, but anecdotal evidence we’ve gathered over the years indicate several African-Americans found employment on the streetcars a little earlier than Dr. Angelou. That, however, in no way diminishes her incredible story of perseverance and determination in overcoming both racism and sexism to land the job she wanted — when she was just 16 years old."

Watch the video below.

Tags:

Comments [3]

glennfromthebronx

I've seen a picture of Maya in the uniform, and in an OPRAH interview. she spoke with such assertion. If she was not the first (but perhaps the second or third...?), I'm sure that Maya did not KNOW it. It was JUST a summer job for a teen...she did not go through an involved interview process and was done @2 months later...returned to school. Not REALLY that "interesting"...perhaps the San Francisco MTA did not have any specific paper records in their HR dept...and up to this point, summer of 1943 or 1994, at the height of WWII, would not keep such records, which would otherwise prove, by her BEING the FIRST, their benign racism leading up to this point in time.

May. 31 2014 07:16 AM
arnold from Queens

I am particularly saddened at the loss of this enormously great human being. Thinking of Maya, I inevitably think of the Dosekis man on TV.., yes, that legendary idealized fictional beer commercial man who in a tongue in cheek way invokes the image of a worldly man who has done everything. Well, Maya Angelou is that Dosekis man, pardon(woman.) She has been at the forefront of transformation of our times, been a singer, dancer, composer, actor, director, social commentator, poet, partner in marriage to revolutionaries, lived and loved in Africa Europe...etc., Maya Angelou, you are my hero; my Dosekis Woman!

May. 28 2014 11:50 PM
Hal Davis from St. Paul, Minn.

Interesting that the assertion in the headline is challenged by San Francisco's MTA.

May. 28 2014 02:54 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Sponsored