Working on the Rails: African Americans and Domestic Train Service
9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
July 21 through September 29, 2012
This exhibit is a brief display of photos and flash backs of the experiences and the legacy of the Pullman porters and the thousands of black railroad workers involved in rail car maintenance, baggage assistance, food service and room service on the trains. Beyond the stylish interiors of the Pullman car, the luxury and comforts provided by Blacks, these moments in time for the Pullman Porters, attendants, dining car cooks and waiters, maids, and baggage handlers portray a human story of racism and exploitation, but also represent the quiet struggles, new strategies for improvement, and union options to create a better future for Blacks.
These jobs also represented full employment and steady work for Blacks at a time when there were few real jobs for African Americans. However, the porters were also required to work a minimum of 400 hours a month, to travel all over the country at a moment’s notice, to pay for their own suits and uniforms to work without opportunity for promotion, and they had no permanent sleeping quarters on the train. They also had to come in early, without pay, to set up the Pullman sleeper quarters and layout supplies and materials, prepare the beds and get ready for the travel assignment. Poor working conditions and low pay finally led to formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925, and the appointment of A. Philip Randolph as their president in 1929. Under Randolph’s leadership, the union would go on years later in 1937 to win more money, greatly improved working conditions, and major changes in their contract. A Philip Randolph, a New York activist, with connections in Washington, DC, continued as union president and also worked with Martin Luther King on the March on Washington in 1963-1964, and assisted with other civil rights projects.
Back in New Mexico, African Americans were here as Buffalo soldiers between 1866 and 1891, some of whom would retire to various cities around the state. With the arrival of the railroads in 1880’s, they and others, who may have arrived by train, would come to take advantage of less prejudiced people and towns, to find new work, to set-up small businesses, and also to acquire inexpensive property or homesteading land including also Blackdom the all Black township near Roswell.