Joseph Guillaume had had enough. The Civil War was over, Reconstruction was in full swing, yet the practice of segregation on the streetcars of New Orleans continued. Every third streetcar—although it was sometimes less often—was supposed to be designated a “star car” and thus could be ridden by blacks. This inhumane system was especially galling for African-American passengers because whites were free to ride the star cars, and they often filled the seats that were supposedly allotted to people of color.
It was a cool, clear, pleasant day. Guillaume was incensed by the lack of progress being made toward ending segregation and the injustice of the star system. As he waited, he made a decision that might have been inconceivable to others: he wouldn’t take the star car that day.
Many white New Orleanians, accustomed to preferential treatment allocated to them through racist practices, supported the continued practice of segregating streetcars. In fact, some felt that there should be “at least FOUR white cars to ONE star car” or “to have some cars constructed with a special apartment for the colored people” so white people would never have to wait for a car.