The Pullman Porter
post written by Emma Filbrun
Title: The Pullman Porter
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Major Themes: Trains, Pullman cars, African-Americans, Civil Rights Movement
Synopsis: The job of Pullman Porter was a much-sought-after job for ex-slaves after the American Civil War, and the Pullman porters were very important in beginning the Civil Rights movement.
The Pullman Porter tells, in text and beautiful pictures, the story of a little-known group of people: the porters in the Pullman railway carriages. I’ve heard of Pullman porters before, but never thought much about them. For the first several years of rail travel, of course, people had to sleep in their seats and eat the food they brought for themselves. In 1857, however, George Pullman had a brilliant idea, and the Pullman train, with real beds and dining cars, was invented. Of course, there had to be attendants to make the beds, serve the food, and care for the passengers. After the Civil War, ex-slaves were hired to do the work. Despite long hours and not enough pay, the job of Pullman porter was envied by other ex-slaves. Eventually, the Pullman porters led the Civil Rights movement, gaining new freedoms and respect for their people before the Pullman cars were phased out in the late 1960s.
I enjoyed learning about rail travel and the porters. The story did seem quite biased to me, though. Never having experienced any of this history, I can’t know how it really was, but the author stresses the difficult, degrading aspects of the porter’s job. As a picture of African-American history, The Pullman Porter might be useful.
Note: I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for a review.