This book discusses the Pullman porters and how they became the Black middle class. The son of Abraham Lincoln Todd, certainly did not follow in his fathers footsteps by exploiting the Pullman porters.
Fascinating read on a small segment of our history but a very important and impactful part of history.
In terms of content, Larry Tye serves up more cultural than economic history. Pullman compelled its porters to purchase their uniforms while paying but a pittance, making their prosperity an illusion. In the George Pullman portion of the porter's story, I stumbled across another example of utopian company town building to join the likes of Hershey, and Disney, and Ford. Meanwhile, upon the rails Pullman consistently played its African American porter workforce off against an exclusively white conductor staff. Porters endured imbalanced salaries more depressed than offset by tips -- somewhere out there awaits an intriguing sociological work on the origins and development of American tipping practice -- and the masters of Pullman's sleeping cars were expected to be on their feet and on call not only during waking hours but practically throughout the night. The demand was untenable, unsustainable, and nonetheless persisted for over fifty years.A porter's work month ran as long as four hundred hours during the first half century of the Pullman Company, when schedules were relentless, monthly wages were independent of hours or miles accrued, and few porters dared complain. Rather, it took a looming war and the intervention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal administration to bring Pullman to formally recognize and accept the collective bargaining authority of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. "By 1926 there were two hundred Pullman maids, one for every fifty porters. Tye concludes his work with anecdotal reflections on porters' legacy: their distortion in popular culture as vaudevillian characters, their labor struggles that laid the groundwork for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington and underpinned the civil rights movement, the personal inspiration and role modeling they presented their children to be well educated and hard working. Like much of history, the life of the Pullman porter turns out to be better in hindsight than in actual experience.
Written history underestimates the importance and powerful for which the The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters meant not only to American history but to the progress of American Labor and its Unions. The Brotherhood was the first workers organization of any color to displace a company union and was the first black union admitted as a full-fledged member of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This book makes the reader aware that not only is the existence and organization of the Pullman Porters important to the progression of Civil Rights for African Americans.
He covers some of the familiar ground, such as the nature of the work and the discrimination built into job. Tye does not ignore the troubles of this work, but addresses them even the masks that Black men had to wear on the job and the many compromises involved working in the early 20th century with little power and few concrete rights.
The stories of organising a union in secrecy were fascinating and eye opening.
The book outlines the Pullman porters' struggle to get 2 hrs a day allotment for sleep, black porters were called George but many worked hard to get around it. And there were numerous stories of life on the rails, incidents in southern (and northern) towns and the importance of their moving information and newspapers across country.
It was a really fun day and while we were there we watched a short film about the Pullman Porters who took care of the sleeper cars and their occupants...treating them to a luxurious experience while traveling.
Satchel is the biography of two American icons Satchel Paige and Jim Crow. In addition to his writing, Tye runs the Boston-based Health Coverage Fellowship, which helps the media do a better job reporting on critical issues like public health, mental health, and high-tech medicine. From 1986 to 2001, Tye was an award-winning reporter at The Boston Globe, where his primary beat was medicine.