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On Feb. 1, 1943, the Capital Transit Company, one of D.C.’s pre-Metro transit predecessors, finally did what The Washington Tribune, an African American newspaper, said would never happen: It hired its first African American apprentice motorman.
As detailed in the local transit history book Capital Transit, B.A. Simmons was the first African American to become a CTCo motorman. But when he reported, 16 operators refused to instruct him, and despite a personal appeal by the union president, W.D. Mahon, he never received instruction. He was offered a job as a janitor instead. None of the men who were supposed to train him was punished.
Later that spring, the Committee on Jobs for Negroes in Public Utilities began to organize protests against CTCo.
Capital Transit Company maintained that it could not comply with orders to hire African Americans because it would result in a strike by its white employees, who said they might quit if they had to work alongside black operators.
It would take nearly 12 years—until Jan. 13, 1955—before CTCo actually let black operators begin working as operators.
Photo of 14th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue taken in 1939 by the U.S. Farm Security Administration via Library of Congress