Black women kicked off Napa wine train

A group of black book club members were kicked off the Napa Valley wine train for being too loud, sparking claims of racially motivated discrimination.


Two of the group’s members before they were asked to leave the Napa wine train. Facebook: Lisa Renee Johnson

The “Sisters on the Reading Edge Book Club” were making their annual Napa Valley wine trip on Saturday when they were asked to leave the train for laughing and talking too loudly.

The group were escorted from the train at St Helena in what they described as a “walk of shame” through six other carriages where they were met by officers from the Napa Valley Railroad and St. Helena police departments.

Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle Lisa Renee Johnson called the incident “humiliating”.

“I’m really offended to be quite honest”, she said. “I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.”

Johnson said that while the group, which included an 83-year-old grandmother, may at times have been “rambunctious,” they were not “obnoxious or intoxicated”.

Johnson documented incident on Facebook as it unfolded prompting a social media storm and the hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack, with users questioning if the group would have been treated differently had they not been African American.

Posting a message on Facebook following the incident, Johnson described the incident as “unacceptable” and called for a public apology.

“I’ve slept and I’m no less angry and humiliated this morning than yesterday”, she said: WE were paying customers too. They paraded us through 6 cars on display in front of the other guests to waiting police like we were criminals. Then they made a written public statement on social media that we verbally and physically abused other guest and staff.”

Users have flocked to Yelp to vent their anger at the incident, including several people who claim to have been on the train and to have witnessed the incident.

Danielle S from Seattle wrote: “I watched in disbelief as staff harassed a group of people who were merely drinking wine and laughing. I’d like to think it wasn’t a racially motivated act, but given the fact that other, non-black guests were behaving in the same way and not removed. I can only conclude that it was discrimination.”

Another gave a different account of the incident. Lloyed C, from San Francisco wrote: “I was on the wine train this past weekend when a loud group of women wouldn’t keep their voices to a reasonable level. A few customers complained, and most of the car was irritated and annoyed with the group of women. The manager asked them three times to keep quiet, then they were escorted off the train. Three times. When they left, there was a look of relief on everyone’s face. The manager handled the situation calmly and professionally.”

The women have since been given a full refund by the train company, but are seeking a public apology from the train company.

Kira Devitt, a spokesperson for the Napa Wine Train, said it had “received complaints from several parties in the same car and after three attempts from staff, requesting that the group keep the noise to an acceptable level, they were removed from the train and offered transportation back to the station in Napa.”

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