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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

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Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters - Founded: C. 1925

In the 1920s, a group of disgruntled Pullman porters in New York City asked an African-American labor militant, A. Philip Randolph, a strong advocate of the rights of black working men and women, to form an independent union of sleeping car porters and maids. The porters worked for the Pullman Company, whose founder, George Pullman, invented the overnight sleeping train car in the 1880s in Chicago. Pullman hired black men and women to serve as porters and maids to the mostly white passengers who used the cars.
By using blacks in a service capacity, he was drawing upon the master-servant relationship of slavery days when blacks were servants to white masters. top of frame
Porters worked long hours for little pay and no job security, and they had to spend half their wages on food, lodging, and uniforms. A. Philip Randolph; Pullman porters
The black community, however, considered porters an elite class of workers because they had steady jobs and traveled around the country. But porters worked long hours with little salary, lacked job security, and had to pay for their food, lodging, and uniforms. Much of their income came from tips. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). He ran into fierce opposition in Chicago, where the Pullman Company's headquarters was located and where many porters lived.
Pullman fought the union, denouncing Randolph as a communist and recruited support from the middle-class black leaders of the city.

Many blacks considered labor unions "trouble-makers" that worked against the best interests of black workers. Randolph made a conscientious effort to win the support of the middle-class black community because of its great influence in the black press and with public opinion. The company refused to negotiate with the union; some charged this was because the union was black. The Brotherhood was the verge of collapsing when Congress passed federal laws guaranteeing the right of all legitimate unions to organize workers without interference from their employers, giving the union a new life. The BSCP now found itself with some legal muscle. In addition, the major labor organization in the United States, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which had traditionally excluded blacks from its membership-now gave the Brotherhood support. As a result, in 1937, the Pullman Company finally signed a labor agreement with the Brotherhood.

-- Richard Wormser

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Historical Documents
A Pullman Porter's story
Frank Byrd's account of working as a Pullman Porter, 1939.
Related Pages
A. Philip Randolph

Great Depression

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