BROTHERHOOD OF SLEEPING CAR PORTERS
For many African Americans the Emancipation Proclamation meant a shift from chattel to wage slavery. One of the most prestigious jobs a black man could get was to be a Pullman Car Porter. Most were elated to get out of their denims, a symbol of slavery, and into a clean uniform. But they soon discovered that the Pullman Company also had a "plantation mentality." With his very low wages, a porter was expected to pay for his uniform, shoe shining equipment and other supplies. He was dependent on the tips of the wealthy white passengers to survive.
The Pullman Company took full advantage of racism. Porters were allowed very little rest while traveling across country. They often had to perform the conductor's job (at a much lower rate) in addition to their own work, thus facing the hostility of white workers.
The porters not only waged a long hard fight against the Pullman Company, they also had to struggle to gain admittance to the American Federation of Labor. As several black delegates emphasized at the 1919 and 1920 conventions, they had proven their loyality to this country by spilling more than their share of blood in many wars. Yet, they could not join or receive equal representation by joining the unions of the AFL. Many black workers instead formed their own independent unions or joined the interracial I.W.W. But even in the late 1920s and early 1930s AFL support was only lip service.
It was not until January, 1937 that the Pullman Car Porters received their AFL charter at their first convention at the Paseo Baptist Church.
Union president A. Philip Randolph had often visited Kansas City clandestinely while organizing the Brotherhood. It was dangerous to come here, and friends in the black community sheltered him.