Working for the Railroad: African Americans

Working for the Railroad: African Americans (HM2I9S)

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N 39° 17.098', W 76° 37.96'

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African Americans played an integral role in American railroading from its inception. Slaves, and later freedmen, helped construct many of America's early southern railroads. By 1859, Baltimore had one of the highest populations of free African Americans in the United States, many of whom were employed as laborers. African Americans were traditionally hired for the most labor-intensive jobs such as trackmen, brakemen, and firemen. Depending more on immigrant labor during the 19th century, northern railroads did not hire many African Americans until World War I.

Encountering violent racism in the north as they competed for jobs, African Americans were refused membership in the traditional railroad brotherhoods and unions. One of the first African-American railroad labor unions was the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen and Locomotive Firemen, formed in 1912. Most African-American railroad workers in the first half of the 20th century worked in unskilled labor and service jobs. Although many moved into the skilled trades, by 1966 only 2.5 percent of African-American railroaders were employed in "white collar" jobs.

African-American trackmen, circa 1930.

Many notable African-American inventors improved the railroading industry. Elijah McCoy patented an automatic lubricator

in 1872 to regulate the flow of oil to locomotive cylinders and pistons. Railroads insisted that their locomotives have the "real McCoy" and not some inferior imitation.

The majority of dining car chefs and waiters were African American.

In the 1870s, northern industrialist George Mortimer Pullman recruited recently freed slaves as porters in order to provide the utmost service on his new sleeping cars. Considered admirable careers within the African-American community, men received higher wages as porters than other available jobs. By the 1920s, Pullman was the largest private employer of African Americans. Nevertheless the career was rooted in slavery and perpetuated negative stereotypes of African Americans. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids was established by A. Philip Randolph in 1925 and successfully lobbied for greater economic opportunities and equality.
HM NumberHM2I9S
Placed ByThe North American Railway Foundation
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Saturday, June 29th, 2019 at 5:02pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 359189 N 4349670
Decimal Degrees39.28496667, -76.63266667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 39° 17.098', W 76° 37.96'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds39° 17' 5.8799999999999" N, 76° 37' 57.6" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling East
Closest Postal AddressAt or near , ,
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