Ten years before Rosa Parks, young student Sarah Elizabeth Ray fought segregation after being removed from the ship SS Columbia in Detroit, MI. Learn more about the tenacious Sarah E. Ray who joined forces with #NAACP and Thurgood Marshall in her fight against injustice with the SS Columbia Project.
The struggle for desegregation in the US has touched every aspect of American life, including waterfront work, shipping, and passenger travel. Even when state and city laws prohibited racial segregation, many businesses would continue to discriminate without worrying that the laws would actually be enforced. It would take individuals willing to fight against these injustices to bring about meaningful change. One such person is Sarah Elizabeth Ray who, ten years before Rosa Parks, fought against segregation after being removed from the passenger steamer SS Columbia in Detroit, MI.
In June 1945, Sarah Elizabeth Ray was a 24-year-old secretarial school student graduate on a trip to the popular amusement park on Boblo Island with her classmates. Ray was the only Black student in her class on board the SS Columbia, and before the vessel departed, the ship’s manager threatened to have her forcibly removed. After being escorted off SS Columbia, Ray decided to contact the NAACP. The NAACP legal team, lead by Thurgood Marshall, sued the Bob-lo Excursion Co. for breaking Michigan’s civil statute barring racial discrimination in public spaces. The case made it to the US Supreme Court which ultimately ruled in Ray’s favor, upholding the laws against segregation.
Desegregation was fought on numerous fronts on an individual, local, and national scale. It is the responsibility of all history institutions in the US to preserve and share these stories. Learn more about Sarah Elizabeth Ray at the SS Columbia Project, which aims to restore the 118-year old vessel and share Ray’s incredible (and long overlooked) act of resistance.
#FromTheArchives #maritimehistory #americanhistory #blackhistory #SSColumbia #SouthStreetSeaportMuseum