In 1884 she was asked by the conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man and ordered her into the ‘smoking or Jim Crow’ car, which was already crowded with other passengers.
Despite the 1875 Civil Rights Act banning discrimination on the basis of race creed or colour, in theatres, hotels, transports and other public accommodations, several railroad companies defied this congressional mandate and racially segregated its passengers.
After escaping to Britain alone at age 14, she went on to become one of the most acclaimed artists of her time.
She is known for her portraiture, street photography and early adoption of colour. She was a contemporary and a friend to some of the great photographers of the 20th century such as Brassai, Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson.
She was born in 1883 in a hospice for the poor in the Loire Valley, to unwed parents of peasant stock and, when her mother died, at age 12 she was placed in a convent-orphanage to be raised by Roman Catholic nuns.
She was put to work as a seamstress at 20 and took the name Coco from a song she liked to sing in a rowdy café patronized by cavalry officers.
‘I was raised in a way that when good things happen to you, you owe. I feel the obligation to slug it out for women.’
She was born Anna Gorenko into an upper-class family in Odessa, the Ukraine. Her interest in poetry began in her youth, but when her father found out about her aspirations, he told her not to shame the family name by becoming a ‘decadent poetess’. He forced her to change her name and she took the name of her maternal great-grandmother.