Honoring Elizabeth Duff, MTA’s first African American female bus driver

Elizabeth Duff (center), with husband and Vivian Wilhoite, Property Assessor of Davidson County. (photo by Marcus Jones)

There is always a time in America where one individual has to take it upon themselves to pave the way for everyone else—one individual that does not take ‘no’ for an answer—one individual that has her eyes set on a goal seen in a dream to be achieved.

On February 8, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) honored Mrs. Elizabeth Duff at the Scarritt-Bennett Center. In 1974, Elizabeth Duff became Nashville’s first Black woman to become a bus operator. Born and raised in Nashville, Elizabeth Duff was always intrigued by the city buses. As a kid, she would just sit on the bus and watch the driver do his job. Her first driving job was with Chevrolet Courtesy Car, and it was one of her clients that put the bug in her ear about driving for MTA.

George Atwood was the supervisor when she applied. He gave her the chance she needed to open the door for other women to follow suit at a time when many professions did not welcome women. But the men at MTA were not a part of that tradition.

“We wanted women there. We got tired of looking at men every day,” said a laughing Patrick Green, ATU Local 1235 president.

“The men were very helpful and made it easy for the transition,” said Duff. “On my first day after training I was torn all up and my nerves were shot. I even went the wrong direction. But my coworkers and customers said I never showed it on my face.”

MTA customers, however, did not like the idea of a woman bus driver. But Elizabeth took the hate and let it motivate her to do her best. Duff, a mother of three and grandmother of six, worked over 40 years for MTA.

She said she “enjoyed driving the bus for MTA, but now I want to drive a tractor trailer.”

That brings us up to today. There’s a saying to “give them flowers while they live,” so Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1235 did just that with the luncheon honoring Elizabeth Duff.

Duff also received a proclamation from Vivian Wilhoite, Davidson County Property Assessor, and awards from the Metropolitan Transit Authority.