Rising from the Rails
Rising from the Rails
Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class
Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805070750, 336pp.
Publication Date: July 1, 2004
An engaging social history that reveals the critical role Pullman porters played in the struggle for African American civil rights
When George Pullman began recruiting Southern blacks as porters in his luxurious new sleeping cars, the former slaves suffering under Jim Crow laws found his offer of a steady job and worldly experience irresistible. They quickly signed up to serve as maid, waiter, concierge, nanny, and occasionally doctor and undertaker to cars full of white passengers, making the Pullman Company the largest employer of African American men in the country by the 1920s.
In the world of the Pullman sleeping car, where whites and blacks lived in close proximity, porters developed a unique culture marked by idiosyncratic language, railroad lore, and shared experience. They called difficult passengers "Mister Charlie"; exchanged stories about Daddy Jim, the legendary first Pullman porter; and learned to distinguish generous tippers such as Humphrey Bogart from skinflints like Babe Ruth. At the same time, they played important social, political, and economic roles, carrying jazz and blues to outlying areas, forming America's first black trade union, and acting as forerunners of the modern black middle class by virtue of their social position and income.
Drawing on extensive interviews with dozens of porters and their descendants, Larry Tye reconstructs the complicated world of the Pullman porter, and provides a lively and enlightening look at this important social phenomenon.
“This book brings to life the stirring story of the civil rights legacy of A. Phillip Randolph and the Pullman porters, which is an inspiration to those of us following in their footsteps. Kudos to Larry Tye for giving us this wonderfully readable, and incredibly important, history.”
--Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.
“Larry Tye has written a much-deserved love song to the forgotten men of the civil rights and labor movements – the Pullman Porters who defeated a major corporation, helped finance numerous civil rights battles, spread news and culture nation-wide, and set a high standard for dignity.” –Julian Bond, Chairman, NAACP Board of Directors
“This is one terrific book. It's a chapter of American history about which few of us know much, and it's a reminder of what life was like for African-Americans in this country, at least until the last few decades. But it's mostly about these men-- their courage, their tenacity and their hopes and dreams for their children and grandchildren. Many of them are no longer with us, but they should and would be rightly proud of how much their kids and grandkids have achieved and how much they have given to this country.” –Michael Dukakis, Former governor of Massachusetts, former vice-chair of Amtrak board
"This book does a magnificent job in relating how a relatively small group of struggling workers shaped not only the African-American community but all of the United States. The story of the Pullman porter is no less important than any other struggle for civil rights in the American labor movement." –James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
“Larry Tye's Rising from the Rails recreates an important chapter in the history of black people in this country: the hard earned passage of thousands of blacks into the middle class. By examining the progress of the Pullman porter - from the step and fetch it caricature to pensioned union member - Tye captures one of black people's many struggles to achieve equality. This is a story all Americans should know.” –Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Senior Managing Director at Lazard LLC and author of Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir
"Rising from the Rails chronicles the pioneering role the Pullman porters and their leader, A. Philip Randolph, played in building America's union movement. This vividly told story should be required reading for those who care about labor history, race history, and US history." –John J. Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO