Sleeping Car Porters
Carol Y. Reeves
The International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the first African American Labor Union chartered by the American Federation of Labor. Pullman porters were men who George Pullman hired to work on railroads as porters on sleeping cars. After the American Civil War, Mr. Pullman found former slaves to work on his sleeper cars. Mr. Pullman was inspired to design better railcars for passengers that had sleeper berths for the passengers after he slept all night in his seat on a train trip from Buffalo to Westfield, NY. The Pullman Company was one of the largest employers of African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. During a time when racial prejudice was significant, being employed as a Pullman Porter was one of the best jobs an African American could have; however, the pay was very low. The Pullman Company also offered financial support for black churches, newspapers, and other organizations.
According to Valien (1940), “The history of attempts to organize the Pullman porters can be divided into four periods.” In 1912, the period of petitions which was the first period began. The porters depended on signed petitions in order to get wage increases and other demands taken into account. The second period started in 1925, which was the period of independent unionism. During this time the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became an independent union. The third period was called the period of probation which began in 1929. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became affiliated with the American Federation of Labor as Federal Locals. The final period was the coming of age period. This was during 1936 when the American Federation of Labor gave the Brotherhood an international charter.
According to McWatt (as cited in Minnesota History, 1977, pp. 202-216), “Pullman standardized the size of his railcars and had created elegant interior of black walnut...