Maya Angelou Was San Francisco's First Black Streetcar Conductor

Email a Friend

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.