December 16, 2007
10,000 Black Men Named “George”
Unions Organizing Campaigns
George Pullman was the first person to employ emancipated slaves; one of the few corporations to employ large numbers of African Americans. This depicts the mistreatment and struggles of African American porters, known as the Pullman Porters. They were a fraternity, 10,000 black men united in their service on the luxury passenger rail lines. Courteous, dignified, diligent, black men whom wore crisp jackets, black pants and big smiles, but the struggle they fought for better work conditions laid the foundations for the civil rights movement. Pullman porters performed many tasks, ranging from taking tickets to making up berths, serving food, cleaned toilets and shining shoes in cramped and rolling quarters. Starting in 1909, Pullman porters tried unsuccessfully to organize a labor union: to represent the interests of employees. This was an uphill battle that African Americans have had to fight for in the United States. Nothing came easy. Of the 12,000 porters employed by Pullman in 1925 all were black except about 400 Mexicans and Asians. The position of porter was held almost exclusively by black men, who were paid low wages for demanding hours. These are ordinary men who did extraordinary things.
When the Great Depression struck America in the 1920s finding work was hard, but if one were poor and black it was virtually impossible. Working as a porter for the Pullman Rail Company was an option, but it meant taking home a third as much as white employees and working some days for free. One could forget about being called by your real name all black porters were simply called “George”. Working for the Pullman Company was, however, less glamorous than it appeared from the outside. Wages, though higher than those paid by most businesses employing African Americans, were very low. Porters were dependent on tips for much of their income....