Beginning in 2004, Kate Masur kept stumbling across references to a 19th century Capitol employee and her refusal to leave a train departing from Alexandria. The Northwestern University history and African American studies professor—then an assistant editor at the University of Maryland’s Freedmen and Southern Society Project—eventually identified the employee as Kate Brown. Brown, a women’s room attendant, wanted to sit among the very people she served in the designated “ladies’ car”—implicitly for white women only. After a conductor instructed Brown to move and she refused, he and a police officer police pounded on her knuckles and twisted her arms before tossing her from the car and onto the platform. Masur includes Brown’s story in An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., an account of black Washingtonians’ efforts to gain equality in the wake of the Civil War. The book explores President Lincoln’s initial efforts to serve the freedmen, before they mobilized themselves through church-based organizations and demanded equal treatment in public settings. And in a story that will surely resonate with those of us dissatisfied with the District’s Congressional representation—or lack thereof—Masur tells of black and white Washingtonians bonding to cultivate a new Republican Party with big hopes for greater racial equality—only for Congress to abolish the local self-government they needed, all but destroying the progressive foundation they’d established.
MASUR SPEAKS AT NOON TUESDAY, FEB. 8 AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, 700 CONSTITUTION AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 357-5000. SHE SPEAKS AGAIN AT NOON WEDNESDAY, FEB. 9, AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, 800 F ST. NW. FREE. (202) 633-8300.