Railroads and Civil Rights: The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation
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The history of civil rights in the United States is a tale of perseverance, courage and triumph over adversity. While many significant events and figures are associated with the movement, the role of railroads in the fight against racial segregation is often overlooked. This article sheds light on the profound impact of trains and railroads on the desegregation of America and the ongoing legacy they leave in the struggle for equality.

The history of civil rights in the United States is an epic narrative of perseverance, courage and the ultimate triumph over adversity. It’s a story woven with the struggles and achievements of countless individuals who stood up for justice and equality. While many significant events and iconic figures are celebrated for their roles in this movement, there’s an often-overlooked aspect: the profound impact of trains and railroads on the desegregation of America.

In the annals of civil rights history, the role of trains and railroads serves as a powerful reminder of how interconnected our society was, both physically and metaphorically. Trains were the arteries of the nation, crisscrossing the landscape and connecting communities. Yet, these very arteries were marred by the stain of racial segregation, mirroring the deeply ingrained discrimination of the time.

African Americans, particularly in the South, faced the harsh realities of segregation when traveling by train. Segregated cars, separate waiting rooms and unequal treatment were the norm. However, these injustices did not go unchallenged. The struggle for equality extended to the railways, with courageous individuals taking a stand against the status quo.

One pivotal moment in this fight was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956. While primarily associated with buses, this movement also highlighted the role of the train system. As African Americans boycotted segregated buses, they turned to alternative means of transportation, including trains. This shift in travel patterns placed economic pressure on the transportation companies, contributing to the eventual desegregation of public transportation.

Moreover, trains played a crucial role in organizing and mobilizing civil rights activists. They served as a means of transportation for leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, enabling them to reach different parts of the country to advocate for change. The ability to travel by train facilitated the coordination of protests, marches and meetings, ultimately amplifying the civil rights movement’s impact.

Today, while the era of racially segregated rail travel is a distant memory, the legacy of the struggle for equality lives on. Trains and railroads continue to symbolize the interconnectedness of our society and the ongoing quest for justice. They remind us that the fight for civil rights was not confined to a particular time or place; it was a nationwide effort that transcended the boundaries of the rail lines.

In retrospect, the role of trains and railroads in the civil rights movement serves as a poignant reminder of the power of collective action and the determination to overcome adversity. They are a testament to the idea that change is possible, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. As we reflect on this often-overlooked aspect of history, we are reminded that the struggle for civil rights is a continuous journey, one that is still evolving and inspiring future generations to stand up for justice and equality.

To expand your knowledge on this subject, make sure to read on at this location:  Plessy v. Ferguson | Summary, Ruling, Background, & Impact …

The Era of Racial Segregation

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, racial segregation was deeply ingrained in American society. Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation, separating African Americans from white Americans in virtually every aspect of public life, from schools to transportation. This included the segregation of passenger trains, where African Americans were relegated to inferior, overcrowded and often unsafe “Jim Crow cars.”

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the specter of racial segregation cast a dark shadow over American society, profoundly shaping the lives of African Americans. The implementation of Jim Crow laws during this era enforced a strict racial divide, relegating African Americans to a second-class status and systematically discriminating against them in every facet of public life, including transportation. The painful legacy of this segregation extended to the realm of passenger trains, where African Americans were forced to endure the indignities of “Jim Crow cars.”

The practice of segregating passenger trains was not only unjust but also deeply degrading. African Americans were compelled to board separate train cars, often marked as “Jim Crow cars,” which were characterized by substandard conditions. These cars were typically overcrowded, uncomfortable and lacked the basic amenities provided to white passengers. Passengers in these cars endured sweltering heat in the summer and inadequate heating in the winter. Seats were often in disrepair and sanitation facilities were insufficient or absent altogether.

In addition to the harsh physical conditions, the psychological toll of segregation on passenger trains was immense. African Americans were made to feel like second-class citizens, their dignity stripped away with each segregated journey. The very act of segregation on trains was a painful reminder of the systemic racism that pervaded American society at the time.

Despite the deplorable conditions of Jim Crow cars, the African American community demonstrated resilience and strength in the face of adversity. Leaders like Rosa Parks and Homer Plessy took bold steps to challenge the segregation of trains and other forms of racial discrimination, ultimately paving the way for significant legal and social changes.

The struggle against segregated trains was a critical chapter in the larger civil rights movement. It underscored the importance of equal access to public spaces and transportation and it served as a catalyst for legal challenges that would eventually lead to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the eventual dismantling of Jim Crow laws.

Reflecting on this dark period in American history serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring fight for civil rights and social justice. It is a testament to the courage and resilience of those who stood up against discrimination and segregation, challenging the status quo to create a more inclusive and equitable society. The legacy of those who fought against the indignities of “Jim Crow cars” continues to inspire and shape our ongoing pursuit of a just and equal society for all.

Don’t stop here; you can continue your exploration by following this link for more details:  History – Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment | United States …

The Era of Racial Segregation - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

The Role of Trains in Segregation

Trains played a pivotal role in enforcing racial segregation. Passengers had to adhere to strict segregation rules, with separate cars for white and African American passengers. African American travelers were subjected to humiliating and degrading conditions, often forced to endure long journeys in overcrowded and substandard cars.

“Trains, which were a symbol of progress and connectivity during the era of rail travel, sadly played a disheartening role in the enforcement of racial segregation. This period in history sheds light on a dark chapter of discrimination, where passengers were subjected to strict and deeply unjust segregation rules.

  1. The Cruel Reality of Segregation: The segregation of trains, with separate cars for white and African American passengers, exemplified the deeply entrenched racism of the time. This enforced division was not only a matter of separate seating but also a stark symbol of societal prejudice and inequality.

  2. The Struggle for Dignity: African American travelers faced immense challenges and indignities during their journeys. They were often relegated to overcrowded and substandard cars, reflecting the systemic injustice that denied them access to the same amenities and comforts enjoyed by white passengers.

  3. Overcoming Adversity: Despite these degrading conditions, African American passengers demonstrated remarkable resilience and dignity. They forged a sense of community within their segregated spaces, providing support and solidarity during their travels.

  4. Civil Rights Activism: The harsh realities of segregated train travel became a focal point for civil rights activism. Prominent figures like Rosa Parks, who famously refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus and the legal battles of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, worked tirelessly to challenge the status quo and dismantle segregation laws.

  5. Historic Legal Victories: The struggle against segregation in train travel resulted in historic legal victories, most notably the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. This landmark decision declared segregation in public transportation unconstitutional, marking a significant turning point in the civil rights movement.

  6. Legacy of Change: The legacy of the fight against segregation in train travel is a testament to the power of collective action and the pursuit of justice. It serves as a reminder that change is possible even in the face of deeply entrenched discrimination.

  7. Continued Advocacy: While legal segregation on trains is a thing of the past, the fight for equality and social justice continues. Advocacy efforts persist to address ongoing disparities and ensure that transportation systems are accessible and fair for all.

  8. Remembering the Struggle: It is crucial to remember this history to honor the resilience and courage of those who fought for change. By acknowledging the past, we reinforce our commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive future.

In conclusion, the era of segregation on trains serves as a stark reminder of the discrimination and hardship endured by African American travelers. Their struggle for equality paved the way for significant legal and social change, highlighting the enduring importance of advocating for justice and fairness in all aspects of society.”

To expand your knowledge on this subject, make sure to read on at this location:  Plessy v. Ferguson: Primary Documents in American History (Virtual …

The Role of Trains in Segregation - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

Challenging Segregation through the Rails

Despite these injustices, trains also became vehicles of resistance and change. African American leaders and organizations, including the NAACP, initiated legal challenges to segregation on trains. Some of the most notable cases involved passengers refusing to abide by segregation rules and taking their protests to court.

Despite these injustices, trains served as more than just vessels of racial segregation; they became potent symbols of resistance and catalysts for change. African American leaders and civil rights organizations, particularly the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), recognized the strategic importance of challenging segregation on trains as part of the broader fight for civil rights.

  1. Legal Challenges: The NAACP, under the leadership of figures like Thurgood Marshall, embarked on a concerted legal campaign against segregation in various facets of American life, including transportation. They meticulously prepared cases that highlighted the inherent inequality and humiliation faced by African American passengers on segregated trains. These legal challenges, often involving courageous individuals who refused to abide by segregation rules, formed the backbone of a growing movement for change.

  2. The Rosa Parks Moment: Long before Rosa Parks became a household name for her courageous stand on a bus, there were countless “Rosa Parks moments” on trains across the nation. African American passengers, emboldened by the desire for equality and justice, took their seats in whites-only cars, sparking confrontations with railway authorities and law enforcement. These acts of civil disobedience were pivotal in exposing the blatant discrimination of segregation.

  3. Public Awareness and Outrage: The acts of resistance on trains captured the attention of the American public and the international community. News reports and photographs of African American passengers being forcibly removed from “whites-only” cars stirred outrage and sympathy. These images served as a stark reminder of the deep-seated racism that permeated society and galvanized support for the civil rights movement.

  4. Pressure on Railway Companies: As legal challenges and acts of defiance multiplied, railway companies faced increasing pressure to address the issue of segregation on their trains. While some resisted change, others began to recognize the untenable position they were in, as the weight of public opinion and legal challenges bore down on them.

  5. Precursors to Broader Change: The struggles against segregation on trains were precursors to broader changes in American society. Legal victories in cases like Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company laid the groundwork for subsequent challenges to segregation in buses and public facilities, ultimately leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In conclusion, the battle against segregation on trains was a pivotal chapter in the civil rights movement. The courage of individuals who refused to accept discrimination and the strategic efforts of civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, helped pave the way for a more just and equitable America. While the struggle for civil rights continues in various forms today, the legacy of those who challenged segregation on trains reminds us of the power of collective action and the unwavering commitment to justice and equality.

To delve further into this matter, we encourage you to check out the additional resources provided here:  Still Separate, Still Unequal: Teaching about School Segregation …

Challenging Segregation through the Rails - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Homer Plessy’s refusal to leave a whites-only train car in Louisiana led to the famous Supreme Court case, which upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine. While Plessy’s case was unsuccessful, it laid the groundwork for future challenges to segregation.

Homer Plessy’s historic act of defiance, when he refused to comply with the segregation laws by remaining in a whites-only train car in Louisiana, marked a pivotal moment in the fight for civil rights in the United States. His courageous stance against racial segregation on public transportation ignited a legal battle that would echo through the annals of American history.

The case that emerged from Plessy’s act of civil disobedience, Plessy v. Ferguson, reached the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court. In a deeply divisive decision, the Court upheld the doctrine of “separate but equal,” a legal precedent that allowed for racial segregation as long as facilities for both races were deemed equal. While Plessy’s immediate legal victory remained elusive, the case’s significance extended far beyond its outcome.

Plessy’s case served as a catalyst for change and laid the groundwork for future challenges to segregation. It galvanized the nascent civil rights movement, inspiring activists and legal scholars to continue the fight for racial equality. Although the “separate but equal” doctrine remained the law of the land for decades, Plessy v. Ferguson planted the seeds of resistance and legal argumentation that would eventually lead to its downfall.

The case was a poignant reminder that the struggle for justice often takes time and persistence. Plessy’s act of defiance was a spark that ignited a long and arduous journey toward dismantling racial segregation in the United States. Over the ensuing years, countless individuals and organizations would take up the mantle, using the legal precedent set by Plessy’s case as both a rallying point and a legal challenge.

Ultimately, it was in 1954, nearly six decades after Plessy’s arrest, that the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine. The Court’s unanimous decision declared that state-sanctioned segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, marking a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

Homer Plessy’s act of resistance, though initially unsuccessful in a legal sense, played an indispensable role in reshaping the legal landscape and public opinion. It illuminated the inherent injustice of segregation, sowed the seeds of change and ultimately contributed to the dismantling of segregation and the advancement of civil rights in the United States. Plessy’s legacy endures as a testament to the power of individuals to challenge and change the course of history through acts of courage and conviction.

If you’d like to dive deeper into this subject, there’s more to discover on this page:  Plessy v. Ferguson aimed to end segregation—but codified it instead

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946)

Irene Morgan’s defiance of segregation on an interstate bus journey ultimately resulted in a Supreme Court decision declaring the segregation of interstate bus travel unconstitutional. This ruling set an important precedent for the eventual desegregation of trains.

Irene Morgan’s courageous stand against segregation during an interstate bus journey represents a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, with far-reaching implications that extended well beyond the bus aisles. Her determination to resist injustice and her refusal to comply with the oppressive racial norms of her time set in motion a legal battle that would ultimately lead to a landmark Supreme Court decision.

In 1944, Irene Morgan’s act of resistance, refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, sparked a series of events that would forever change the course of American history. Her arrest and subsequent legal battle culminated in the 1946 Supreme Court case, Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia. In a groundbreaking ruling, the Court declared that state laws enforcing segregation on interstate buses were unconstitutional, citing violations of the Commerce Clause.

This landmark decision was not only a significant victory for civil rights but also a crucial legal precedent that would influence future battles against racial segregation in transportation. It laid the groundwork for the more famous 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled against racial segregation in public schools.

But the impact of Irene Morgan’s defiance did not stop at the bus stations. Her case and the subsequent Supreme Court decision sent a clear message: segregation had no place in the realm of interstate travel. This ripple effect soon extended to trains and other modes of transportation. With legal precedents firmly established, activists and lawyers began to challenge segregation on trains, subways and other forms of public transportation.

In the years that followed, numerous legal battles were waged against segregated train travel, leading to important victories and eventually paving the way for desegregation across the entire transportation sector. These victories were instrumental in dismantling the infrastructure of racial segregation that had long divided communities and hindered social progress.

Irene Morgan’s unwavering resolve and the legal battles she ignited not only transformed the landscape of transportation but also became part of the larger tapestry of the civil rights movement. Her actions served as a beacon of hope, inspiring countless individuals to stand up against discrimination and fight for a more just and equitable society. In this way, her legacy is not only a testament to her own bravery but also a symbol of the collective struggle for civil rights and equality in America.

If you’d like to dive deeper into this subject, there’s more to discover on this page:  Morgan v. Virginia (1946) – Encyclopedia Virginia

Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946) - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

The Turning Point: The Desegregation of Trains

The tide began to turn against segregation in the mid-20th century. A series of legal challenges, acts of civil disobedience and the tireless efforts of civil rights activists started to erode the segregationist policies of railroads:

The mid-20th century marked a pivotal moment in the struggle for civil rights in the United States and the fight against racial segregation extended to various facets of society, including the realm of railroads. During this transformative era, a confluence of factors and events precipitated a gradual shift away from segregationist policies, bringing about significant change. Let’s delve deeper into the developments and individuals who played key roles in dismantling segregation in railroads:

“The mid-20th century bore witness to a sea change in the battle against racial segregation and this transformation resonated within the domain of railroads. A series of legal challenges, acts of civil disobedience and the relentless dedication of civil rights activists coalesced to challenge and ultimately erode the deeply entrenched segregationist policies of railroads, shaping a more inclusive and equitable future.”

  1. Legal Milestones: Landmark legal challenges, such as the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, set a powerful precedent by ruling that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This ruling reverberated across various sectors, including transportation, prompting reevaluations of segregation practices on trains.

  2. Acts of Civil Disobedience: Civil rights activists, including Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, demonstrated the efficacy of nonviolent civil disobedience as a means of protest. These actions not only catalyzed change in local public transportation but also inspired broader discussions about segregation in rail travel.

  3. Freedom Rides: The Freedom Rides of 1961, organized by civil rights groups like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), saw activists boarding buses and trains to challenge segregation policies head-on. Their bravery and unwavering commitment drew national attention and pushed the issue of railroad segregation into the spotlight.

  4. Legislative Initiatives: Federal legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in public accommodations, which encompassed railroad travel. This landmark legislation marked a significant step toward dismantling segregationist practices.

  5. Collaborative Efforts: The civil rights movement was marked by the unity of diverse groups and individuals who recognized the injustice of segregation. Faith leaders, community organizers and everyday citizens joined forces with prominent figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., forging a powerful coalition that lobbied for change in transportation policies.

  6. Public Awareness: The struggle against railroad segregation garnered significant media attention, both nationally and internationally. News reports and photographs of civil rights protests and confrontations with segregationist policies on trains galvanized public opinion against such practices.

  7. Corporate Responsibility: Some railroad companies began to recognize the financial and ethical implications of segregation. Realizing that maintaining separate facilities was costly and increasingly untenable, they gradually began to desegregate their services.

  8. Evolving Social Attitudes: Changing societal attitudes, driven by the civil rights movement and broader cultural shifts, contributed to a growing intolerance for segregation in all its forms, including within the realm of transportation.

In conclusion, the mid-20th century marked a turning point in the battle against racial segregation in railroad travel. Through a combination of legal challenges, acts of courage, legislative reforms and the tireless efforts of activists, the entrenched policies of segregation began to crumble. While the struggle was far from over, these pivotal moments in history laid the foundation for a more equitable and inclusive future, reshaping the landscape of rail travel and society as a whole.

For additional details, consider exploring the related content available here Civil Rights Era (1950–1963) – The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long …

The Turning Point: The Desegregation of Trains - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (1955)

Sarah Keys, an African American woman and army private, refused to give up her seat in the “colored” section of a bus. Her case, decided in her favor by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), marked a significant step toward ending segregation on interstate buses and trains.

Sarah Keys, a courageous African American woman and army private, defied the oppressive norms of her time when she steadfastly refused to surrender her seat in the “colored” section of a bus. Her resolute stand against racial segregation was not just a personal act of defiance; it was a bold declaration that reverberated through the corridors of justice and equality.

The landmark decision by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to rule in her favor signaled a seismic shift in the fight against segregation within interstate transportation. It was a momentous stride toward dismantling the deeply entrenched system of discrimination that had plagued buses and trains for far too long.

Sarah Keys’ determination sent shockwaves through a nation grappling with the contradictions of liberty and prejudice. Her case became a rallying point for the Civil Rights Movement, inspiring activists, leaders and everyday citizens to join the chorus demanding an end to segregation in all its forms. Through her unwavering courage, Sarah Keys not only secured her own rights but also played a pivotal role in paving the way for a more just and inclusive society, where the color of one’s skin would no longer determine their place on a bus or train. Her legacy continues to remind us of the power of individuals to catalyze profound social change.

Should you desire more in-depth information, it’s available for your perusal on this page:  Looking Back on the Fight for Equal Access to Public …

Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (1955) - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

This landmark legislation, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It had a profound impact on ending racial segregation in public accommodations, including trains and buses.

This landmark legislation, known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stands as a historic milestone in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and equality in the United States. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signature on this transformative bill marked a decisive step toward a more just and inclusive society.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed discrimination on multiple fronts. It boldly declared that no one should be subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. This sweeping protection extended beyond just words; it carried the weight of federal law, providing a legal framework for challenging and dismantling entrenched discrimination in various aspects of American life.

One of the most significant impacts of this legislation was its role in dismantling racial segregation in public accommodations, including the realm of trains and buses. Prior to its passage, racial segregation was an unfortunate and deeply ingrained reality in many parts of the country. African Americans and other minority groups often faced humiliation, discomfort and inequality when traveling, as they were relegated to separate, inferior facilities and services.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 shattered these barriers by outlawing segregation in public transportation. It mandated that all individuals, regardless of their race or background, could access public transportation without the burden of discrimination. This fundamental change not only improved the travel experience for countless Americans but also symbolized a larger shift in societal attitudes toward racial equality and justice.

Beyond its immediate effects, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 laid the groundwork for subsequent civil rights legislation and movements, shaping a more inclusive, equitable and diverse nation. Its enduring legacy serves as a reminder of the progress that can be achieved when individuals and leaders come together to confront discrimination and promote the principles of equality and justice for all.

To delve further into this matter, we encourage you to check out the additional resources provided here:  Civil Rights Era (1950–1963) – The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long …

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

Legacy and Ongoing Struggles

The desegregation of trains and public transportation marked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. While significant progress has been made, the struggle for equality continues in various forms, including addressing disparities in transportation access and quality. Today, we remember the courage of those who challenged segregation on trains and honor the legacy of the railroad’s role in the fight for civil rights. The railroad industry, like the nation itself, continues to evolve and adapt, striving for a more inclusive and equitable future.

The desegregation of trains and public transportation marked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, as it symbolized the dismantling of systemic racism and segregation that had plagued American society for generations. While significant progress has been made since those historic days, the struggle for equality continues to manifest in various forms, with transportation access and quality being an ongoing battlefront. Today, as we commemorate the bravery of those who challenged segregation on trains, we must also reflect on the enduring legacy of the railroad industry in the broader context of the fight for civil rights.

In the mid-20th century, the courageous actions of individuals like Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders ignited a nationwide movement to end racial segregation in public transportation, setting a powerful precedent for the larger civil rights struggle. Their refusal to accept the injustice of being relegated to separate, inferior facilities on trains galvanized a nation and brought about legal changes that reverberated far beyond the transportation sector.

However, despite these landmark victories, disparities in transportation persist in various forms. Low-income communities and communities of color often face unequal access to efficient and affordable transportation options, limiting their opportunities for economic advancement. The fight for transportation equity continues today, with advocates pushing for improvements in public transit, the expansion of bike and pedestrian infrastructure and the promotion of green, accessible mobility solutions that benefit all members of society.

As we reflect on the past and the ongoing challenges, it’s crucial to recognize that the railroad industry has evolved alongside the nation itself. Today, many railway companies actively embrace diversity and inclusion in their workforce, aiming to create more equitable employment opportunities. They also invest in infrastructure and technologies that enhance transportation accessibility for all, striving to bridge the gaps that persist in underserved communities.

The legacy of the civil rights movement, intertwined with the railroad’s history, serves as a powerful reminder of the progress we’ve made and the work left to be done. The railroad industry, like the nation it traverses, continues to evolve and adapt, inspired by the principles of equality and justice. It is a testament to the enduring spirit of those who fought for civil rights on trains and a beacon of hope for a more inclusive and equitable future where transportation is a catalyst for opportunity, not a barrier.

To expand your knowledge on this subject, make sure to read on at this location:  Civil Rights Era (1950–1963) – The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long …

Legacy and Ongoing Struggles - The Legacy of Trains in Desegregation

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