Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945

Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945

Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945

Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945

Synopsis

Bates traces the rise of a new, more aggressive protest politics in the black community through the struggle of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to form a union in Chicago from 1925 to 1945

Excerpt

I believe a rich plunderer like Pullman is a greater felon than a poor thief, and it has become no small part of the duty of this organization [American Railway Union] to strip the mask of hypocrisy from the pretended philanthropist and show him to the world as an oppressor of labor …. The paternalism of Pullman is the same as the interest of a slave holder in his human chattels. You are striking to avert slavery and degradation.

EUGENE DEBS, May 16, 1894

Shortly after the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters began its organizing campaign in New York City during August 1925, Randolph made plans to take the BSCP west to Chicago, the city with the largest population of Pullman porters. If the Brotherhood wanted to represent Pullman porters and maids, it had to win support in Chicago. But the shadow of the giant Pullman Company hovered over that city's black community. In one direction a couple of miles north of the area where the majority of African Americans lived, Pullman Company headquarters loomed large on the horizon. In the other direction, a few miles south of the black community, was the town of Pullman, founded in the late nineteenth century as a model community for white workers of the Pullman Company. Pullman town, though no longer owned and operated by the Pullman Company, cast a shadow over the black community, for the town stood as a reminder of George Pullman's dedication to industrial paternalism and his resolve to fight unions. The Pullman strike of 1894 began in the town of Pullman when George Pullman refused to respond to grievances brought by its workers and residents against Pullman's paternalistic living and working arrangements, which, the residents said, resembled feudalism. When the workers decided their only recourse was to join the American Railway Union, the attorney general ordered federal troops to put down the unrest—14,000 armed . . .

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