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The Kate Brown Story

Senate Report on the Kate Brown Incident, 1868

In 1868 a Senate employee named Kate Brown suffered serious injuries when she was denied a seat in a railway car and forcefully ejected from the train—because she was African American. Her story gained the attention of Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner. A Senate committee investigated the incident, took testimony from witnesses, and reported in Brown’s favor. Kate Brown then sued the railway. When the Supreme Court for the District of Columbia ruled in her favor, the railway appealed the case with an argument that foreshadowed the “separate but equal” doctrine of later years. In 1873 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision, rejecting the company’s argument as “an ingenious attempt” to evade the law of its charter.