Gertrude Hadley Jeannette has driven down nearly every block from Soho to Harlem. The woman knows New York City like the back of her hand. And she should- the now 96-year-old Black woman was the first female cab driver in the big apple.
This week, Jeannette was honored by the Coalition of Theatres of Color for her contribution to Harlem and the New York arts community at large. When WWII ended, as did the shortage of drivers and Jeannette left her cab behind when she accepted a role in the Broadway play “Lost In The Stars.” She then went on to a 70-year career in television, movies as well as her theatre stomping ground.
Stepping up to accept her award at Harlem’s Dwyer Cultural Center on Tuesday, Jeannette’s face was filled with warmth and life. She reminisced on her days driving her cab through the city, through America’s days at war and it’s thick racism. Remembering her first day, Jeannette recalled:
“Stupid me. [I] pulled up in front of the Waldorf-Astoria. In those days they didn’t allow black drivers to work downtown. You had to work uptown.”
Jeannette says her patience ran out when another cabbie tried to cut in front of her.
“I rammed my fender under his fender, swung it over to the right and ripped it! [I told him] ‘You tried to cut in front of me, I couldn’t stop.’”
Besides keeping her sense of humor through the years, Jeannette has also kept a love for her passion as well.
“It made a writer out of me,” she said. “I met so many interesting people. I wrote a play about one . . . So many interesting stories.”
Jeannette is definitely a heroine in our book. And on this last day of Women’s History Month, what better way to remember the contributions of women of color to breaking through the gender walls and becoming notable “firsts.”