On June 7, 1892 Homer Plessy bought a first class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway. He took a vacant seat in a coach reserved for white passengers. This act was planned with the help of the Comite des Citoyens and the railroad company, which had opposed the law on the grounds that it would require the purchase of more rail cars. The hope was to bring a case to court that would allow African-Americans to ride wherever they pleased. When Plessy was ordered to leave, he disobeyed, was thrown off the train, arrested, and thrown in jail. He was charged with violating the Louisiana segregation statute of 1890. The Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that the Louisiana law did not violate the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments ushering in the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” and Jim Crow Laws.
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​​​Books are most effective when they are relevant to children’s lives, but our current inventory of culturally diverse books is not nearly sufficient to meet the need of the wide diversity of children and families we serve. To bridge the gap between the need for culturally diverse books and the lack of availability, we are launching “A Story Like Mine.” Your support of this project helps us make more culturally diverse books available for all of the children we serve. 

The Oregon/SW Washington local chapter collected over 800 books for the Portland area Children's Book Bank since starting this campaign in 2015... Please help continue the effort!​ This year we have 2 ways to be involved. Participate below thru online pop-up book drive.Be sure to identify your gift as part of the COMTO Oregon/SW Washington chapter effort...or many of our members and partners are hosting collections onsite so check to see if your organization is a host. 

Driving While Black: The Car and Race Relations in Modern America by Thomas J. Sugrue

For blacks, as well as for whites, cars had real practical value--as a means of getting to work, of travelling, of visiting family and friends. But cars had other, deeper meanings for many African Americans. Perhaps most importantly, they helped blacks to escape the insults of Jim Crow.

​From the late nineteenth century through the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, American blacks faced some of the harshest indignities of legal segregation on buses, streetcars, and trains. In the South, black patrons at bus and train stations were cordoned off into separate waiting rooms, with separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, and (when they were provided to blacks at all) separate concession stands. On trains, they were confined to separate, inferior Jim Crow cars. In railroad dining cars, a curtain separated black passengers from whites. On urban public transportation, black and white passengers were separate and unequal. Black passengers were required to sit at the back of buses and trolleys--and to give up their seats to whites on demand. Black passengers who challenged Jim Crow on public transportation systems faced insult, personal injury, arrest, and even death at the hands of angry whites.

The car provided southern blacks a way to subvert Jim Crow. As Gunnar Myrdal noted in his exhaustive study of black America published in 1944, "the coming of the cheap automobile has meant for Southern Negroes, who can afford one, a partial emancipation from Jim Crowism." Blacks who could afford to travel by car did so as a way of resisting the everyday racial segregation of buses, trolleys, and trains, for as one observer noted, "Race is most completely ignored on the public highway.... Effective equality seems to come at about twenty-five miles an hour or above." In 1936, sociologist Arthur Raper, who studied race relations in rural Georgia, noted that the "opportunities provided by the automobile provide a basis for a new mobility for whites as well as Negroes, based upon personal standards rather than upon community mores--upon which the individual wants to do rather than what the community does not want him to do." Driving gave southern blacks a degree of freedom that they did not have on public transportation or in most public places. 
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1884: IDA B. WELLS

On May 4, 1884, anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells was asked by the conductor to move from her seat in the ladies’ car to the front of the train into the smoking car. She refused and was ordered to get off the train. Again, she refused to leave her seat that she paid for as a customer. Wells was then forcefully removed from the train and, when the situation ended, the other passengers—all whites—applauded. When Wells returned to Memphis, she immediately hired an attorney to sue the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. She won her case in the local circuit courts, but the railroad company appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, and it reversed the lower court’s ruling.
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​​​COMTO's National Scholarship Program supports our strategic goal of ensuring the continuing legacy of minorities in transportation. COMTO awards $100,000 annually in national academic scholarships to minority graduate and undergraduate students from across the country. Scholarship awardees are represented in all academic backgrounds and pursuing various careers in the transportation industry. 

COMTO Chapters collectively award close to $500,000 annually in academic scholarships to local applicants. 

​Click here for more information on available scholarships and requirement

Article: "The Car and Jim Crow"

2020 National Conference

Call for Papers and Presentations

COMTO's National Meeting and Training Conference is the premier gathering of professionals in the transportation industry. 

For its 49th annual conference, COMTO is seeking fresh, innovative, and cutting edge proposals for presentations, panel discussions, and workshops.

Accepted proposals will fall into one of the following five workshop tracks: 

* Accessibility and Innovative Mobility
* Historically Underutilized Business
* Leadership
* Transportation Policy
* Transportation Technical

Online Submission Opens: December 13, 2019
Online Submission Closes: January 31, 2020
Proposal Acceptance Notification: February 14, 2020
Conference Registration Opens: February 24, 2020
Final Presentation Outline Due: May 1, 2020
Presenter Conference Registration Deadline: May 15, 2020

​Click here for more information

National Scholarship

​​​​​Giving Back 

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Transportation Protests: 1841 to 1992


On July 16, 1854, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, a 24-year-old schoolteacher fatefully waited for the bus in New York City. Some buses bore large “Colored Persons Allowed” signs, while all other buses were governed by a rather arbitrary system of passenger choice. When Jennings opted for a bus without the “Colored Persons Allowed” sign, the conductor told her to get off. When she insisted on her right to stay, he took hold of her by force to expel her.
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Your donations are tax deductible. Please see Value Your Donation for more information.






A Look Back in History


In 1841, Frederick Douglass and his friend James N. Buffum entered a train car reserved for white passengers in Lynn, MA. When the conductor ordered them to leave the car, they refused. Douglass’ and Buffum’s actions led to similar incidents on the Eastern Railroad. Widespread organizing led Congress to grant equal rights to Black citizens in public accommodations with the Civil Rights Act of 1875. However, the Supreme Court overturned this victory in 1883, declaring it unconstitutional.

Women Who Move the Nation

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 Washington, DC

2020 National Conference

July 18-21 * The Diplomat Beach Resort * Hollywood, Florida

DRIVING WHILE BLACK is a dark comedy, rooted deeply in reality... but not a reality that everybody is familiar with. Dimitri delivers Pizzas for a living - but as a young black man he is faced with "extra" challenges while navigating the city. The film explores the reasons why so many black men have concerns of unfair treatment, especially while driving. We get to see the psychology behind Dimitri's attitude towards the police, through piercing flashbacks to his prior experiences with the cops - from childhood to present day, the cops have always had their eye on him. We will follow Dimitri on his path to his dream job as a Hollywood tour guide - and the many trials and tribulations he has to overcome just to get to the interview. It's an engaging and often emotional journey as sometimes things just aren't fair. But at its heart it is a comedy full of fun twists and turns. Anyone who has ever driven while black, (or knows someone who has) will laugh throughout - and it might just change an opinion or two— Director Paul Sapiano


On April 17, 1863, months after San Francisco’s horse-powered street car companies during the Civil War dispatched their street cars (with orders to only accept white passengers), African American citizens began to directly challenge this discrimination. On April 17, 1863, Charlotte Brown, a young African American woman from a prominent family, boarded a street car and was forced off. Determined to assert her rights, Ms. Brown boarded street cars twice more and twice more was ejected by the year’s end. Each time she began a legal suit against the company. In May 1863, William Bowen, an African American, was stopped from boarding a street car. He brought a civil suit and a criminal assault suit. Their legal actions came after the African American community’s successful campaign to remove the state’s ban on court testimony by African Americans. Lifting this ban opened the legal system to challenges by African American men and women in the state. Mary Ellen Pleasant, a longtime foe of segregation and leading supporter of John Brown, brought suit against SF street car companies–when she was ejected in 1866–and after two years of court battles the lines were desegregated. (Thanks to William Loren Katz for this story.)


On October 30, 1870, three men outside the Quinn Chapel in Louisville, Kentucky, made their way toward the trolley stand at Tenth and Walnut on the Central Passenger line. When the trolley stopped, each climbed aboard the near-empty car, dropped a coin in the fare box and took a seat.

It would have been a routine occurrence—three men catching a ride home after church on a Sunday afternoon—had the passengers been white residents of Louisville. But they were African American. And for black city dwellers, riding a trolley was no ordinary act. It was a challenge to the entire social order.
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