Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York
Published Jan. 2, 2018, Streetcar to Justice is the first biography of Elizabeth Jennings (Graham), who is sometimes called the Rosa Parks of New York. In 1854, Miss Jennings, a black schoolteacher, refused to leave a segregated streetcar in Manhattan, setting into motion a historic court case and the first major step in ending segregation in public transportation in New York.
Ms. Hearth's research was the first time the life and story of Elizabeth Jennings was confirmed and documented. The book contains numerous sidebars and other contextual material to help the reader learn about slavery and segregation in the North, especially in New York City, and how it differed from the South. Written for middle-grade to adult readers, the book was published by HarperCollins/Greenwillow in New York.
The book is a 2019 American Library Association Notable Book and the winner of the inaugural 2019 Septima Clark Book Award from the National Council for the Social Studies for "the most distinguished young reader non-fiction book depicting women's issues globally." In addition, the book is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and a CCBC Choice, the annual best-of-the-year list of the Cooperative Children's Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Called "a book that belongs in any civil rights library collection" by Publisher's Weekly (starred review, Oct. 16, 2017), Streetcar to Justice received this review from Booklist: "[A] gem of a story...illustrations from the era and extensive notes and references help readers follow the story. Those interested in the myriad origins of the civil rights movement will be fascinated by the case and how it galvanized the black community of its day."
School Library Journal called it "a superb mentor text. Hearth brings the story of Elizabeth Jennings to vivid life in an eminently readable book."
Kirkus, in a starred review, wrote: "Hearth speaks directly to readers, explaining every detail of the events clearly, and includes copious sidebars with comprehensive historical and biographical information. The text is complemented by reproductions of contemporary illustrations and newspaper articles. Hearth steps out of the role of omniscient narrator, making the work a personal journey, allowing readers to follow as she describes her process from inspiration to researching and building the tale, one bit of evidence at a time. Completely fascinating and unique."
The New York Times Book Review wrote: "Wrapped up in Hearth's detailing of Jennings's courage is a sobering recognition that the shame of our nation's history was widespread...Hearth reminds us that Jennings was not only blocked from riding in a streetcar, she also faced institutionalized obstacles."
This is Ms. Hearth's first book for middle-grade (and up) readers. She chose to write the book for a broad age-range of readers, starting at age 8, the age at which most American children first study the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and are introduced to the iconic historical figure, Rosa Parks. She located and studied original sources including stories published in long-defunct newspapers from the 1830s.
In interviews, Ms. Hearth said she didn't set out to write a book about Elizabeth Jennings. She had been researching the story as a hobby of sorts for more than twenty years. Eventually, a writer-friend persuaded her that she had a responsibility to take the boxes of research down from the attic, dig through them, and share what she had learned with the world.
Streetcar to Justice has brought long-overdue attention to Elizabeth Jennings. The book even played a part in the selection, in March 2019, of Elizabeth Jennings by the City of New York as one of four new statues of women.