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Biographies Unit Biographies

Mary Ellen Pleasant 1814?–1904
“Mother of Civil Rights”

Not much is known about Mary Ellen Pleasant's early life. Historians believe that she was born into slavery but that later she moved north and gained her freedom. Pleasant was an abolitionist (ab uh LIH shuhn ihst), which means she worked to end slavery.

Pleasant opened a boarding house in San Francisco. Many of the people who stayed there were wealthy San Francisco citizens. She got to know these people and used her influence to help other African Americans. She helped escaped slaves find jobs. She worked to end discrimination against African Americans in San Francisco. In 1868, she took a streetcar company to court for not allowing her to ride the trolley, and won her case. Pleasant is called “the mother of civil rights” in California.

Comprehension Check

What kind of business did Pleasant open in San Francisco?

Critical Thinking

Why is Pleasant called “the mother of civil rights” in California?