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Those Pullman Blues - Book

Those Pullman Blues - Book

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Those Pullman Blues, the first oral history centering on the unique experiences of black porters and railroad attendants during the railway's heyday, chronicles their stories. By turns dramatic, inspiring, comic, and heartwrenching, the first-person accounts document both the glamour of the railroad era and the bitter realities of being a black worker on a white railroad.

Arguing that these workers' experiences have largely been neglected in the literature and can help us understand a century of racial prejudice and stereotyping, the study's compiler, David D. Perata, gracefully interweaves contextual with interview material. In his fluid introduction, Perata helps readers link important historical developments, such as George Pullman's establishment of the Pullman Palace Car Company and A. Philip Randolph's leadership in organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and presents a host of vivid details, among them the disquieting similarities between the Pullman Company's creed and slaveowners' notions of "plantation hospitality," the use of civilians paid as spotters to spy upon and sometimes entrap unwitting attendants, and the Pullman Company's 127-page employee manual specifying such fine points as how many inches a porter was to fold back a bedsheet.

Yet above all it is the workers themselves who elucidate both the era's glory and its shame, bringing the history alive for readers by candidly discussing their relationships with passengers, employers, coworkers, and unions. "Lincoln freed the slaves, and the Pullman Company hired 'em," notes a member of the Smock family, whose three generations of Pullman Company employees have been cited in Ripley's Believe It or Not. Still, he adds, "regardless of all the hardships, there was something to be gained."

Heralded by Coretta Scott King as "an invaluable contribution to U.S. labor history," Those Pullman Blues will engage high school and college students, historians, and railroad buffs. Complementing the volume's core of eight personal histories are a forward, preface, introduction, epilogue, postscript by California Congressman Ronald V. Dellums, notes and references, bibliography, and a comprehensive index.

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