My grandfather, John Jones was born in Gonzales, Texas, in September 1888. He grew up in this small town and attended the local school. At sixteen and after bringing a young girl, Minnie Weathers, to his wife, he moved to the then Fort Worth Cattle Empire, Texas.
For over forty years, my grandfather's job was to be a member of an elegant group of distinguished black gentlemen known as the Pullman Sleeping Car Porters or simply Pullman Porters. Named after George Pullman of the Pullman Palace Train Car Company, the inventor of the Pullman Sleeping Car, which was designed for luxurious long-distance train travel.
Like Pullman Porter, my grandfather traveled from his home in Fort Worth on various US rail routes to the Texas and Pacific Railroad during the heyday of train travel from 1922 to 1962 when he retired.
When I, his grandson, born in Fort Worth, moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1977, he told me many stories about his train trip to Kansas City. He said he arrived at the second largest train station in the country, Union Station in downtown (Grand Central Station in New York, being the first) and saw all the advertisement signs on a hill in front of the station (where now is the Westin Crown Center Hotel) and then spend the night at the Streets Hotel for Blacks, located in what is now known as the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District.
My grandparents have been married for 65 years. They raised seven children, all of them college graduates with the salary he received and the tips he received from the many passengers he served. My grandmother died in 1978 while my grandfather was 99 years old and died on Thursday, June 9, 1988, just a few months before turning 100.
The Pullman Porters and their rich American history: George Pullman of the Pullman Palace Train Car Company, founded in 1862, manufactured wagons and developed the Pullman deluxe wagon, used on trains for long and night trips. These train cars, first introduced to the railroad in 1867, had carpets, curtains, upholstered chairs, libraries and card tables, and private dormitories with beds and bathrooms for long train rides.
Mr. Pullman came up with the idea of hiring a group of very distinguished, handsome and well-dressed African-American men to serve as Pullman Porters to help train travelers with any needs they may have while on board. This proved to be a great job for the porters and was considered a very prestigious job in what Mr. Pullman called "Hotel on wheels".
During the 1920s, Mr. Pullman had over 9,800 Pullman train cars and employed over 12,000 African American porters. He was the largest single employer of blacks in the country at that time.
Daily work for a Pullman Porter was long and arduous, but it offered good wages during the period and also offered porters a chance to get to know the country. During the early years, they worked 400 hours a month and received 35 cents an hour or about $ 810 a year, plus the tips they would give. It was good money and allowed them to take good care of their families and send their children to college. His prestigious works also helped define the black middle class of the time.
The Pullman Porters were basically bred and had to endure all the humiliating behavior of white travelers. There were many times when they were not called by name, but called "George" after George Pullman or simply "boy" that everyone hated.
His daily work included shiny shoes, making beds, providing room service, helping with luggage, or just about anything the passenger wanted or needed. The better the service, the better the tips they would expect to receive. Sometimes a quarter and sometimes even a rare dollar if they did a very good job. In addition, Pullman Company's work policy was strict and allowed porters to sleep only four hours a night and they had to pay for their uniforms, wood and food.
On August 25, 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was founded by a black businessman, A. Philip Randolph. It was the first all-black union in the country and helped pave the way for better job benefits for shippers.
On August 25, 1937, Pullman Company signed an employment contract with Pullman Porters, which became the first employment contract between black workers and a large American company. The result of the contract included benefits such as reduced working hours from 400 per month to 250 and salary increase from $ 67.50 per month to a minimum of $ 89.50 per month.
The Pullman Porters were highly respected members of their communities and were credited with contributing to the development of the black middle class in America as black doctors, lawyers, and educators of the time.
In 1968, the Pullman Company ceased operation of its sleeping wagons and several railway companies took over the Pullman Car function. The shippers were transferred to companies like Union Pacific Railroad and later Amtrak.
In conclusion, if you've had a chance to catch the Amtrak train today and see a good black man taking care of your every need, tip him well and remember the proud story of the Sleeping Car Porters Brotherhood, and in particular remember my grandfather pullman porter john jones not "George" or "Boy".