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Home > The Pullman Company > Pullman Porters

Pullman Porters

  The Pullman porter was the person who the traveling public most associated with the Pullman Company. From the 1860's when George Pullman first hired African-American men to work on his luxury sleeping cars, until the mid-twentieth century, the Pullman porter held one of the best jobs for Black men in America. They provided service to and attended to the needs of the passengers. In the beginning, the Pullman Company hired only African-American men for the job of porter. The Pullman Porters and the excellent service they provided were integral and indispensable to the rise and success of the passenger railroad industry. In the world of the Pullman porter, where whites and blacks lived in close proximity, these porters developed a unique culture, marked by their own language, railroad lore and shared experiences. At the same time, the porters played important social, political and economic roles, by carrying jazz and blues to outlying areas, by bringing national renown Black newspapers to rural areas, and by forming the first Black trade union in America.

  The porters worked in the operating division of the Pullman Company, and were not associated with the shops. The story of the Pullman porter is too important not to be mentioned on this site, but to large to do it any justice. If you have more interest in the porters story, I recommend the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum web site. There are also several books relaying an oral history.

A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum web site

  A. Philip Randolph and C.L. Dellums founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925, a union for African American Pullman railroad car attendants. The union struggled with the Pullman Company, one of the most powerful businesses in the country. The working conditions spurred these Ambassadors of Hospitality to unite. The historic union representing the Pullman Sleeping Car Porters was the first controlled by African Americans. In August 1937 the Brotherhood finally won a contract with Pullman. It was the first economic agreement ever signed between African Americans and any institution. It sent the message of unionism to the African American community nationally.

A porter makes up the berths for an evening - New York Central Photo

A porter makes up berths for the evening.
New York Central Photo

Books about Pullman Porters

  "Those Pullman Blues" by David D. Peralta

  An oral history of the unique experiences of the porters.

  “Rising From the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class” By Larry Tye

  How the BSCP defeated a major corporation, helped finance civil rights battles, spread culture nationwide and set a high standard for dignity.

  "A Long Hard Journey" by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack

  The porter story in a form children can appreciate.

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