Transportation leaders remember Maya Angelou


FILE – In this Nov. 21, 2008 file photo, poet Maya Angelou smiles at an event in Washington. Angelou, a Renaissance woman and cultural pioneer, has died, Wake Forest University said in a statement Wednesday, May 28, 2014. She was 86. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

This post has been updated.

Before she rose to international prominence as an author, educator and civil rights activist, the beloved Maya Angelou broke a tough barrier in the transportation industry, becoming San Francisco’s first black female streetcar conductor.

She was 16 and enamored with the transit worker’s uniforms. When asked what job she wanted, she said “that’s the job I want.”

Angelou died Wednesday, leaving behind her literature and quotes of wisdom. World leaders celebrated her life as a “brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman,” while some transportation leaders remembered her perseverance and legacy in the industry.

“As as a teen-ager, she broke barriers right here in San Francisco, when she was hired by our namesake, Market Street Railway, as the first female African-American streetcar conductor in the city,” Rick Laubscher, president of the Market Street Railway, a nonprofit preservation partner of the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) said in a blogpost Wednesday.

“During her tenure with Market Street Railway Company, which did not last very long, she more than likely worked out of the Haight Street car barn near Stanyan. The type of streetcar she worked on was almost certainly from Market Street Railway’s “100-class,” built by the Jewett Car Company of Ohio in 1911,” he said.

In her recent book, “Mom & Me & Mom,” Angelou tells the story of how she became the first African-American woman to work as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

“I saw women on the street cars with their little changer belts. They had caps with bibs on them and form-fitting jackets,” Angelou recalled in an interview with Oprah last year. “I loved the uniforms. So I said, that is the job I want.”

From that job, she said she learned the value of perseverance.

“While no one would even give her an application, she waited patiently and with resolve for two weeks until she got the job – shattering the glass ceiling for women in transit, Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union said.

Earlier this year the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials honored Angelou with a lifetime-achievement award during a program celebrating “Women Who Move the Nation.”

In a statement Wednesday, the organization of minority professionals in the transportation industry lamented the death of the renowned poet, author and civil rights champion and said, “We celebrate all of Dr. Angelou’s wonderful accomplishments.”

Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, joined the chorus of voices mourning Angelou’s passing.

“The ATU family joins a nation in mourning the loss of renowned poet Dr. Maya Angelou. Her achievements as a novelist, educator, producer, actress and civil rights activist enriched and advanced America’s cultural life. The ATU family joins a nation in mourning the loss of renowned poet Dr. Maya Angelou. Her achievements as a novelist, educator, producer, actress and civil rights activist enriched and advanced America’s cultural life.

What many may not know about the life of this Renaissance woman is that Dr. Angelou was San Francisco’s first African American streetcar conductor. While no one would even give her an application, she waited patiently and with resolve for two weeks until she got the job – shattering the glass ceiling for women in transit.”

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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