Emma J. Turner

Excerpt from Turner v.  North Beach and Mission Railroad Company, 1866

Emma Turner's testimony in Turner v North Beach and Mission Railroad Company, California Supreme Court Decision, 1868.  Published in The American Corporation Cases, 
Volume 1.

Emma Jane Turner was one of several women in the 1860s who launched cases in response to discriminatory actions on the part of railroad companies. Turner filed her case in fall of 1866, after allegedly being physically removed from a streetcar by the conductor “without any lawful cause and with great force and violence.”[1] Turner did not perceive any personal malice—any particular reason why she should have been denied a place on the streetcar.

Later on in the record she elaborates on the occurrence. According to her own testimony she hailed the streetcar after dark one evening. The car stopped, and she stepped on the platform, and took ahold of the iron railing on the vehicle. The conductor then accosted her—he planted one hand on her breast and used the other to pull her off the railing of the streetcar and told her to wait for the next car before pushing her off the platform of the vehicle’s platform. Turner fell backwards, and in the conflict her dress was partially torn from her body.

Fortunately, there was no reported physical sign of trauma on Turner’s person, but this allowed for the conductor’s claim to differ vastly. He reported that Turner never stepped on the streetcar, that he did not touch her, and that he did not even know that she was a person of color at the time.[2] Regardless, the judge ruled the case in favor of Turner, who was paid a settlement of $750.  Within two years, however, the California State Supreme Court reversed this lower court decision.[3]

Unfortunately, most all of the information we have about Turner is with relation to this particular court decision, and is contained in the report of Turner v The North Beach and Mission Railroad Company[4]. However, it is notable that Turner is described as “a person of color…being examined as a witness on her own behalf,”[5] indicating that although the law banned black testimony against a white person, she was able to enter her testimony into this particular case against a streetcar company. Her address around the time of the case—508 Green Street in San Francisco[6]—is also accessible, and gives us insight as to where Turner could have potentially been trying to go.

[6] Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Written by Daniel Waruingi. Taught by Sharla Fett, History 213, Occidental College, Spring 2016.