Sarah Elizabeth Ray: The Rosa Parks of SS Columbia
A Video by Aaron Schillinger
Tuesday, July 21, 2020 at 7:00 PM.
Zoom conference. Please REGISTER HERE.
Presented by SS Columbia Project, The Steamship Historical Society of America, and The National Maritime Historical Society
Ten years before Rosa Parks was removed from a bus, Sarah Elizabeth Ray was removed from a boat, Steamer Columbia. Sarah’s experience (long unrecognized) is now known to have inspired Rosa’s. In June 1945, Sarah was aboard Columbia, the sole African American on a celebratory graduation cruise with her classmates. Sarah was taken off the vessel before the vessel left the Detroit River dock. Michigan law prohibited segregation and discrimination on public conveyances. With the help of the NAACP (and Thurgood Marshall), Sarah filed a law suit which would ultimately end illegal segregation in Michigan. The suit was appealed at every level by the vessel operator, the Bob-lo Excursion Co. before making its way to SCOTUS. On Feb 2, 1948, the People of Michigan (and Sarah) prevailed thus putting an end to discrimination and segregation on the Bob-lo boats. Columbia, built in 1902 and today docked in Buffalo, remains a powerful symbol of how an individual battled injustice and won.
The Zoom event includes a screening of the video, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Detroit Historical Society’s Malika Pryor and featuring filmmaker Aaron Schillinger, author Desiree Cooper, and historian and professor Victoria Wolcott. The event will conclude with an update on the restoration of SS Columbia by SS Columbia Project Board Co-Chair Ian Danic and Executive Director Ann Loeding.
Click here for full bios and for a detailed schedule of the event.
SS Columbia Fall Supper Soiree
This past October, the SS Columbia Project hosted a Fall Supper Soiree at Brooklyn’s Montauk Club. We had a lovely time listening to live jazz by Jason Prover and the Sneak Thievery Quartet, as well as enjoying an open bar and dinner. This very special sold out evening supported the restoration of the boat.
Glory Be Columbia
SS Columbia Project supporters and friends Justin Rivers and Aaron Asis created Glory Be Columbia — a staged reading about Columbia that showed at Theatre Row from March 27-29 and was sponsored by Untapped Cities.
The staged reading explored a woman’s life-long and unique connection to one of America’s last day boat steamers. Both her older and younger selves act as an archive to Columbia‘s special place in the lives of so many Detroit-area natives.
Ship of the Year!
The Steamship Historical Society of America named the 1902-built SS Columbia the 2018 Ship of the Year. We gathered with friends at India House on December 5, 2018 for a celebration. We were proud to be honored along with Captain Brian A. McAllister who was awarded the C. Bradford Mitchell Award winner for publication of the book McAllister Towing: 150 Years of Family Business.
2017 Hudson River Story Barge
The SS Columbia Project presented the Hudson River Story Barge – a traveling arts and culture celebration of boats, cargo, people, and ideas, and how they all came together to influence the region’s river, canals, and ports.
Programs were hosted aboard the historic covered barge Pennsylvania Railroad No. 399 (a surrogate vessel, since Columbia is currently in Buffalo undergoing restoration). Events included an onboard exhibit, a 360 virtual reality tour of Columbia, performances, interactive workshops, a STEAM board game for kids (designed by NYU’s Design For America team), and more. All events were free and open to the public.
Click here for the full line-up of events.
2017 Summer Series
In 2017, we launched our first-ever summer series … with events in New York City, the Hudson Valley, and Buffalo! We partnered with an incredible roster of educational and cultural organizations, including three other historic vessels. For the complete list of events, please click here.
Sunset Tours of the Working Waterfront
On Wednesday, July 19th, and Thursday, July 20th, we had the pleasure of taking sunset tours of the working waterfront aboard the Fireboat John J. Harvey as part of our 2017 Summer Series. A huge thank you to Archer Roose for providing the wine. Photos courtesy of Susan DeVries, Stefanos Metaxas, and Mage McManus.
Cocktails and Oysters aboard Grand Banks
On Sunday, May 21st we enjoyed cocktails and oysters on the Hudson River with Grand Banks, a celebrated oyster bar aboard the historic Sherman Zwicker.
Summer Series Kick-Off at the Frying Pan
On Thursday, April 27th we kicked off our 2017 Summer Series at the Frying Pan with SS Columbia Project board, advisors, and supporters.
Trip up the Hudson River
On Sunday, March 26th we journey upriver from New York City to Albany, making stops along the way, aboard Classic Harbor Line‘s Manhattan II. The trip was co-hosted by Columbia University’s Hudson Valley Initiative and the Hudson River Foundation. The focus of the conversations were how to promote the Hudson River as a regional destination and increase opportunities for adjacent waterfront cities and towns. Thanks to our partners Basilica Hudson, Business Alliance of Kingston, Department of Small Interventions, Hudson Opera House, and The Olana Partnership. Thanks to Joshua Brown Photography for the photos, as well as this video, of the event.
Theater on Columbia’s Decks
From August 18 – 21, the first large-scale cultural event to be held onboard Columbia in decades was a site-specific theater piece by the Buffalo-based Torn Space Theater in partnership with the New York City-based Temporary Distortion. This cutting-edge performance included immersive light, sound, and cinema and gave viewers a modern look at the historic Columbia.
Celebrate a Year in Buffalo
On August 19th, we unveiled a collectible series of art posters commemorating Columbia’s time in Buffalo. Buffalo artists Joel Brenden, Brian Grunert, Jon Mirro, and Julian Montague were inspired by the 114-year-old steamboat Columbia as a work of art and a technological marvel, and also by the rich history and maritime heritage of Buffalo. To view and purchase these posters, please visit our online shop here.
From August 18th through the 21st, free tours aboard Columbia were offered to the public. Each 45 minute tour offered a walk around the main deck and a view of the historic ballroom. SS Columbia Project crew members also spoke about the recent hull repairs and the long-term plans for the vessel to the 100 people that attended.
Summer Evening on the Fireboat John J Harvey
On Wednesday, July 20th, Fireboat John J. Harvey hosted SS Columbia Project’s board, advisors, and donors for a perfect summer evening on the Hudson River. The fireboat was at capacity with 100 people onboard. Just imagine the number of people who will be able to experience what it is like to be on the water when Columbia is back in service!
Thanks to our Buffalo friends Community Beer Works for providing the beer and Leonard Oakes Estate Winery for providing the wine and cider! A special thanks to Stefanos Metaxas for photographing the adventure, and to advisory board member Huntley Gill for making the trip possible.
Inaugural Steamboat Speaker Series Event Featuring John Pollack
On Tuesday April 26th, The J.M. Kaplan Fund hosted our inaugural Steamboat Speaker Series event featuring John Pollack, author of Cork Boat and expert on making seemingly unlikely vessels float.Click here to see more photos of the event taken by Stefanos Metaxas.
John captivated guests with his inspiring story about fulfilling his life-long dream: to build and sail a boat made from wine corks. John faced a range of obstacles from a lack of corks (ultimately needing 165,321) to strict deadlines to transportation troubles to raging rapids. He faced each challenge with creativity and determination — and, in the end, it was the community of friends, family, volunteers, and hundreds of supporters that made his adventure and sail down the Douro River Possible.
Just like John’s Cork Boat, restoring Columbia and preparing her for a new life on the Hudson River is a team effort. We could not have gotten this far, and we cannot continue, without your support.
On March 9, 2016, we presented the SS Columbia Project to an impressive group of preservationists and civic leaders at the Landmarks50 luncheon at the Public Theater.
Lecture at Roosevelt Island's New York Public Library Branch
Executive Director, Liz McEnaney, presented a lecture entitled The SS Columbia and the Return of the Hudson River Day Liner at Roosevelt Island’s New York Public Library Branch in conjunction with the Roosevelt Island Historical Society on March 8, 2016. In this presentation, Ms. McEnaney shared the history of 114-year-old Columbia, its National Historic Landmark status, and plans for its revitalization.
Presentation at PechaKucha Night in Brooklyn
On March 4, 2016, Executive Director Liz McEnaney presented the story of Columbia in the form of twenty slides at PechaKucha Volume 8. With only twenty seconds of speaking allotted per slide, this was a great crash-course in Columbia’s past, present and future!
Happy Hour at Jimmy's No. 43
SS Columbia Ballroom Series
A huge thanks for our Ballroom Series hosts: Ian Danic, Joan K. Davidson, Sarah Davidson, Otis and Nancy Pearsall, Carmela Rea and Geoffrey Lynch, and Jon Varnedoe. If you would like to attend or host an event, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Snapshots of Columbia at the JM Kaplan Fund
Many thanks to all who joined us at the JM Kaplan Fund on December 14th for a photography exhibition celebrating Columbia’s arrival in the Empire State. This event could not have happened without the talented photographers who donated their time and work to support the SS Columbia Project, including Gene Witkowski and Catherine Gavin, and John Grover. We would like to give a special thanks to our Honorary Trustee Joan Davidson and the JM Kaplan Fund for hosting us on Monday night, and also to our friends at the Johnson Estate Winery who generously donated a curated selection of wines.
Fall 2015 Fundraiser
Many thanks to those of us who joined us on Sunday, November 1st, 2015 aboard the yacht Manhattan and experienced the Hudson River the way it was meant to be seen … via boat! A special thanks again to our advisory board member Rick Scarano and his wonderful crew at Classic Harbor Lines for making this journey possible and to the Hudson River Foundation for co-hosting the voyage.
A People's History of the SS Columbia Short Film
You were on the Columbia. That’s where you wanted to be — meeting the love of your life, seeing the stars and the water, hearing the sound of the feet on the dance floor, throwing your hands up as the band played ‘Shout’, having a good time. Columbia brought people together from different backgrounds – and the memories that were made will stay with them forever.
As we imagine Columbia’s next century of service, we listen to the stories of her past life serving the Detroit region. Here, Detroiters (and a Canadian) share their memories of the boat – histories that will ultimately become part of the onboard exhibition and will travel with Columbia as she journeys to the Hudson River.
A special thanks to oral historian and preservationist Emilie Evans and filmmaker Matt Reznik of Mindfield for putting so much thought and energy into this project.
We recently partnered with Google and the Hudson River Foundation to “street map “ the Hudson River. New Yorker reporter Andrew Marantz wrote: “The maritime nerds on the John H. Harvey were affiliated with two nonprofit groups – the Hudson River Foundation and the S.S. Columbia Project – that aim to get New Yorkers thinking about the river in new ways.” (Click here for Andrew’s article, “I Was A Google Mapper”) For online adventurers, the Hudson River special collection will be added to Google Maps later this summer. Stay tuned for more information.
3D Virtual Tour of Columbia
Our friends at the Detroit Free Press created an incredible 3D virtual tour of the Columbia. Click here to see the tour. Here’s what you’ll see in the tour: “The SS Columbia is big – nearly 216 feet long and 60 feet wide at its greatest width. Because of the size, we’ve broken up the scans of the boat into 6 virtual tours. In the tours you can control where you go, and which direction you look. You have nearly 1,500 spots to stand and look in 360 degrees – so duck into rooms, walk up the stairs, or float along the dance floor. Along the way you might see some portraits of people who’ve worked on the boat or visited the vessel, such as the Coast Guard inspection team while on a recent test of the boat for water tightness. You might even get a glimpse some Free Press staffers documenting the boat.” A special thanks to Nancy Andrews for spearheading this initiative.
Bon Voyage, Columbia!
We are inviting fans of the Boblo Boats to come bid farewell to Columbia as she begins her journey to New York State. The boat is departing Ironhead Shipyard in Toledo in late August 2015 and will travel 235 miles across Lake Erie to her temporary berth in Buffalo, New York.
On August 13, 2015 from 3-6pm we will offer twenty-minute tours of the vessel to twenty guests at a time. Due to the deteriorated condition of the upper decks, the tours are limited to a walk around the main deck and a view of the ballroom. SS Columbia crew will talk about the recent hull repairs and the long-term plans for the vessel.
Please click here to make your reservations today! Reservations are required and names will be checked upon entry to the shipyard.
The press will be invited onboard on August 13, 2015 from 10-11:30am. All press inquires should be directed to email@example.com.