North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955

North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955

North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955

North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955

Synopsis

North of the Color Lineexamines life in Canada for the estimated 5,000 blacks, both African Americans and West Indians, who immigrated to Canada after the end of Reconstruction in the United States. Through the experiences of black railway workers and their union, the Order of Sleeping Car Porters, Sarah-Jane Mathieu connects social, political, labor, immigration, and black diaspora history during the Jim Crow era. By World War I, sleeping car portering had become the exclusive province of black men. White railwaymen protested the presence of the black workers and insisted on a segregated workforce. Using the firsthand accounts of former sleeping car porters, Mathieu shows that porters often found themselves leading racial uplift organizations, galvanizing their communities, and becoming the bedrock of civil rights activism. Examining the spread of segregation laws and practices in Canada, whose citizens often imagined themselves as devoid of racism, Mathieu historicizes Canada's racial history, and explores how black migrants brought their own sensibilities about race to Canada, participating in and changing political discourse there. North of the Color Lineexamines life in Canada for the estimated 5,000 blacks, both African Americans and West Indians, who immigrated to Canada after the end of Reconstruction in the United States. Through the experiences of black railway workers and their union, the Order of Sleeping Car Porters, Sarah-Jane Mathieu connects social, political, labor, immigration, and black diaspora history during the Jim Crow era. By World War I, sleeping car portering had become the exclusive province of black men. White railwaymen protested the presence of the black workers and insisted on a segregated workforce. Using the firsthand accounts of former sleeping car porters, Mathieu shows that porters often found themselves leading racial uplift organizations, galvanizing their communities, and becoming the bedrock of civil rights activism. Examining the spread of segregation laws and practices in Canada, whose citizens often imagined themselves as devoid of racism, Mathieu historicizes Canada's racial history, and explores how black migrants brought their own sensibilities about race to Canada, participating in and changing political discourse there.

Excerpt

Smoke belched from the Pacific Express’s engine as it slowly snaked into Winnipeg the morning of 1 July 1886—just in time for Canada Day celebrations. Three thousand excited spectators and an artillery salvo heralded the arrival of Canada’s first transcontinental train, now halfway through its maiden voyage. It was, just as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) company had promised, a red-letter day. the procession of train cars spanned seven hundred feet end to end and included a wood-burning locomotive, two firstclass cars, two baggage cars, the “Holyrood” dining car, and the “Honolulu” and “Yokohama” sleeping cars. Enthusiasts quickly besieged the opulent sleepers and marveled at their awesome appointments. W. F. Salisbury, a passenger and cpr executive, described the pandemonium over the sleepers in a letter to his wife: “Our car the Honolulu was thronged with admiring visitors during our stay,” and added, “I dare say a hundred or more people passed through it—in fact, I may say we were treated with this kind consideration at almost every place we stopped during daylight. Modesty, I presume, forbade them [from] disturbing us during the night.”

Canadians had much cause for celebrating the completion of their national railway line. Their first through train signaled the rebirth of Canada as a modern nation and pointed to the country’s maturation into the new industrial era. Accordingly, they made powerful emotional connections between railroad technology and the rise of their new nation-state. Canadian statesmen and railway barons alike looked to the railway as the nation’s guaranteed path to modernity and prosperity, explicitly wedding technology . . .

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