On Saturday afternoon, the Sisters on the Reading Edge, a book club comprised of 11 African-American women, boarded a Napa Valley Wine Train in California, intent on having a good time. But what started off pleasantly turned into a “humiliating” experience after the women were escorted off the train for laughing and talking too loud.
“It was humiliating. I’m really offended to be quite honest,” Lisa Johnson, 47, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.”
According to the Chronicle, the women—who were seated at two tables in the same car—claim that they were doing what other passengers were doing, ordering wine and enjoying the trip through California’s vineyards and wineries.
Johnson told the newspaper that she and the other women may have been animated, but definitely weren’t “obnoxious or intoxicated.”
A short time after the 11 a.m. Saturday departure, Johnson said the manager on the train approached the members of her group, telling them to quiet down.
“The train is set up to be with your friends, to drink wine and have a good time,” Johnson says. “We were thinking, ‘Who are we offending?'”
The manager returned a short while later, informing the group, “This isn’t going to work.” She said he added that if the group members didn’t lower their voices they would be removed from the train.
“It was a bizarre thing for all of us,” Johnson told the Chronicle. She noted that many in the group did lower their voices, but that that didn’t stop what came next.
According to the Chronicle, once the train arrived at the St. Helena station, the entire book club, which included an 83-year-old grandmother, was not only asked to leave the train station, but was greeted by officers of the St. Helena Police Department.
“People were looking at us,” Johnson said, adding that they had to walk past all the other members of the train in order to leave. “To get escorted into the hands of waiting police officers. That’s the humiliating part.”
The Chronicle notes that no police action was taken and that the officers waited with the group members until a van came to pick them up.
“The Napa Valley Wine Train does not enjoy removing guests from our trains, but takes these things very seriously in order to ensure the enjoyment and safety of all of our guests,” Napa Valley Wine Train spokeswoman Kira Devitt said, adding that about once a month, guests need to be removed from the train.
In a statement to the Chronicle Sunday, Devitt noted that “several parties” had complained about the group’s noise level, and claimed that staff tried three times to get the noise to an acceptable level.
Devitt claims that the group was “removed from the train and offered transportation back to the station in Napa” only after they refused to comply.
Johnson told the Chronicle that while she and the other group members were kicked off the train, the company had worked with the group to rectify the situation, including giving each book club member a refund, providing them with free pictures and having the van pick them up at the station where they were put off.
“They knew they were out of place,” Johnson told the Chronicle, adding that she “wants a public apology for the humiliations they caused to us as professional women.”