May 18, 2013
Something about the poet and author Dr. Maya Angelou escaped most people’s attention, until now. She was once employed by our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, Muni’s old competitor, as a streetcar conductor. The first black female conductor in San Francisco history, in fact.
She said this decades ago in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” when she describes in some detail standing on the back platform of a 7-Haight streetcar collecting nickels from boarding passengers. But now it has become national news, because she talked about it with Oprah. Here’s a clip from that interview, courtesy Harpo Productions.
We provided some photos of Market Street Railway streetcars on the 7-line to the program. They added photos of female transit workers from other systems, not San Francisco’s. The program promotes “How Dr. Angelou Became San Francisco’s First Black Streetcar Conductor.” Hiring records no longer exist, but anecdotal evidence we’ve gathered over the years indicate several African-American found employment on the streetcars a little earlier than Dr. Angelou. That, however, in no way diminishes her incredible story of perseverance and determination in overcoming both racism and sexism to land the job she wanted — when she was just 16 years old.
The video clip is well worth watching.