Joseph Guillaume's Audacious Ride

On May 4, 1867, Guillaume acted. What happened next is open to some debate. According to the New Orleans Times, at 11:30 a.m. Guillaume hailed a “Whites Only” car number 148 on Love Street, now known as Rampart. When the driver refused to stop, Joseph jumped aboard and “coolly took the reigns in his own hands.” Blair Kelley counters that Joseph “fought off a conductor who had tried to eject him, threw the conductor out of the car, and drove off with the vehicle.” Roger Fischer contends that “Guillaume overpowered him, seized the reins, and began to make off with the streetcar as a trophy of war while the terrified passengers evacuated as best they could.” In a more benign version of the story, the New Orleans Tribune suggested that “the gentleman seized the bridle of the mule to stop him, and the driver whipped the animal to make him go. "

Whatever the story, it was a critical moment. Three days later the Tribune would report that “all the companies had come to the understanding of admitting our citizens into all the cars, without any distinction as to color.” Chief of Police Thomas E. Adams issued an order: “Have no interference with negroes riding in cars of any kind. No passenger, has a right to eject any other passenger no matter what color. If he does so he is liable to arrest for assault or breach of the peace.” Arceneaux notes, “at the order of General Phillip H. Sheridan, in May 1867, all public transportation was integrated, and the ‘star car’ system was ultimately abandoned until the end of Reconstruction in 1877.”

Even then, however, some star cars apparently were still operating. The May 11 Daily Picayune reported, “a group of colored men hailed a car on Carondelet Street last night, and the driver immediately stopped. The party advanced and seeing that it was a star car, told the driver to go ahead, that they concluded not to ride.” Finally, by May 25, the New Orleans Times reported that the star car system had been abolished.



North Rampart & Canal Streets, New Orleans, LA