Remembering Mary Ellen Pleasant

Pleasant Courtesy of Holdredge Collection and San Francisco Library History Center
Mary Ellen Pleasant/Courtesy of Holdredge Collection and San Francisco Library History Center

The Making of Mammy Pleasant

“The Mother of Civil Rights in California,” Mary Ellen Pleasant, one of America’s first Black female millionaires, made her fortune in the San Francisco area as a partner and consultant to Gold Rush enterprisers. In the 19th Century, racist conductors ejected Pleasant from her trolley car on two occasions for which she sued in landmark civil right cases history has all but forgotten.

Because so much is lost concerning Pleasant, until more is discovered she may continue to anchor herself within dialogues of history and race through the speculative imaginings of those willing to posit the meanings within and behind her existence. Black female writers and scholars are utilizing access to publishing venues, digital media and the Internet to steadily create a postmodern counter-myth of Pleasant which circumvents her usual characterization as at once a wicked and subservient Mammy figure.

From my paper “Pleasant Imagining”: Speculation, Trials, and Postmodern Historical Heroism of Mary Ellen Pleasant:

In her 1988 play Buses, playwright Denise Nicholas reinvents a black female speculator within a genre of speculative fictions — the dream play. At the outset 19th century self-made millionaire, rebel abolitionist, and tabloid media mainstay Mary Ellen Pleasant appears suddenly, long after or perhaps before her 1904 death in California, at a mythical American bus-stop where 20th century African-American Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks awaits the fateful bus from which she will be ejected for refusing to surrender her seat to a white rider…full paper here>>

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