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Thursday, May 23, 2024
Hold the Fort for we are coming,
Union men be strong,
Side-by-side we’re marching on,
‘ Til victory is won.

Pullman Porter’s Union Song
As recorded in A Long Hard Journey: the story of the Pullman Porter, by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack.
Porter with passengers on Canadian Pacific Transcontinental in the 1890s  Courtesy of Canadian National Railway
  September 1, 1859 George Mortimer Pullman debuted his first railroad sleeping car. The Pullman Sleeping Car became extremely popular with travelers and the secret to their success was the exception level of service provided by the Pullman Porter. In the post Civil War period Pullman employed former slaves as porters. He cashed in on the fact that

Porter with passengers on Canadian Pacific Transcontinental in the 1890’s – Courtesy of Canadian National Railway
  these individuals would perform obediently and for very little money because they were accustomed to being enslaved. The porters worked 400
hours or 11,000 miles per month away from their families with only 3 hours of sleep a night. They catered to the eating sleeping and grooming needs of the travelers in return for tips and often had to endure very poor treatment. However, despite the many hardships, the life of a ‘Travelin’ Man’ provided a new sense of freedom and financial security that was appealing. So much so that by the 1900’s the Pullman Palace Car Company was the largest employer of African Americans in the United States. Porters were also a feature on trains in Canada such as the Canadian Pacific pictured from the 1890’s.
Richard B. Harrison - Clipping from the Windsor Star courtesy of Marie Martin
  Porters were very respected members of their communities. For many individuals being a Sleeping Car Porter was a stepping stone on their way to success in other fields. It was a way to pay for higher education for themselves or their families.When researching the lives of successful African Americans or Canadians it is very likely that that individual had a porter in his or her past. For example Actor Richard B. Harrison, who played ‘De Lawd’ in ‘The Green Pastures’ was a Pullman porter as was the father of Canadian Jazz legend Oscar Peterson.

(Left picture: Richard B. Harrison - Clipping from the Windsor Star courtesy of Marie Martin)
A. Philip Randolph - Courtesy of <em>Rising From the Rails</em>
  The Sleeping Car Porters were barred from employment in other positions with the company and were not admitted in the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors a white labour union. In 1925 A. Philip Randolph began organizing for a union of sleeping car porters. Those porters who took up the cause jeopardized the income and security of their families. The fight for union was a long and difficult one spanning 12 turbulent years. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the first African-American labor union to

A. Philip Randolph - Courtesy of Rising From the Rails
  win a collective bargaining agreement and to gain a charter from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1938 the International Brotherhood of Red Caps was organized followed by the Provisional Committee for the Organization of Colored Locomotive Firemen in 1941.
My Name is not George, by Stanley G. Grizzle  Umbrella Press
  In 1946 the Brotherhood organized the porters of the Canadian Pacific and the Northern Alberta Railway. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada was the first trade union in Canada organized by and for African Canadians. Along with seeking better wages and working conditions for union members the Brotherhood also pressured federal and provincial governments to create legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing. In 1964 African Canadian porters were finally

My Name is not George, by Stanley G. Grizzle – Umbrella Press
  employed in other positions at the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways (CPR and CNR). The book, ‘My Name is not George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada’, by Stanley G. Grizzle, is
an excellent insight into Mr. Grizzle’s 20 years as a sleeping car porter in Canada and the struggle they faced. February 15, 1999 Heritage Canada unveiled a plaque at Windsor Station in Montreal to honour African Canadian railway porters. The plaque recognizes their contributions as nation builders and pioneers in the fight to eliminate discrimination.
Louis E. Powell  Windsor Star 02/12/1957
  The dining car workers and Red Caps joined the union at a later date. The Red Caps were responsible for taking passengers’ luggage to and from the train terminal and also worked for tips. A very famous Red Cap in the city of Windsor was born in Colchester Township but came to Windsor in 1917. Known to travelers from far and wide as “Louie the Red Cap” A very dedicated and dependable employee with a reputation for never missing a train Mr. Louis E. Powell was a great asset to the CNR for 30 years.

Louis E. Powell – Windsor Star 02/12/1957
  During his career he met Prime Ministers and celebrities and was pleased to assist during the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in June of 1939. Louis E. Powell passed away at the station while waiting for the 2:20 p.m. train. Mr. Powell was 74.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.


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