Monday, October 17, 2011

Alley #24 -- October 17, 2011

Pleasant Street runs from Taylor to Jones between Sacramento and Clay Streets.  I took this photo looking up from Taylor Street on 14-September-2011.  The street is named after Mary Ellen Pleasant, who was born into slavery, but freed herself and became involved in the Underground Railroad.  She moved to San Francisco and passed for white.  She became wealthy by helping a clerk, Thom Bell, at the Bank of California with investment advice.  She used her connections and money to help the black community, which knew her true identity.  At some point, she went east and became involved with the network that helped John Brown.  After his capture, she came back to San Francisco.

After the Civil War, she declared her true racial identity and pushed for Civil Rights.  After she was thrown off a horse car, she filed a suit, Pleasant v. North Beach & Mission Railroad Company, which established that public conveyances in San Francisco could not be segregated.   

In later years, various elements, including Thom Bell's wife, began to smear Mary Ellen.  They began calling her "Mammy," which she did not like.  She lost her fortune and died in poverty in 1904.

There is a small park named after her in Pacific Heights.

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