Alexander Augusta's public presence was often controversial, but proved to be a catalyst for change.
On a rainy day in February 1864, Augusta, in full military uniform, headed to a court martial in Washington, D.C. where he was scheduled to testify. He hailed a streetcar and attempted to enter the covered seated area. The conductor informed Augusta that he would have to stand up front with the driver as was usual for black riders. When Augusta refused, he was forcibly ejected and had to walk through the rain to reach the hearing.
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a noted anti-slavery supporter, was outraged after hearing of the incident. Within a week, Sumner brought a resolution before the United States Congress to abolish the exclusion of blacks from railroad privileges in the nation's capital. The resolution resulted in the desegregation of streetcars in Washington, D.C. within a year.
After passage of a resolution abolishing segregation on streetcars in Washington, D.C., African Americans were free to sit in covered areas of cars.