My grandfather, John Jones was born in Gonzales, Texas in September 1888. He grew up in this small town and attended the local grade school there. At the age of sixteen and after taking a young girl, Minnie Weathers for his wife, he moved to the then cattle empire in Fort Worth, Texas.
For over forty years, my grandfather's job was to be a member of a brave group of distinguished black gentlemen known as Pullman Sleeping Car Porters or just Pullman Porters. They were named after George Pullman of the Pullman Palace Train Car Company, the inventor of the Pullman Sleeping Car designed for luxurious long-haul.
Like Pullman Porter, my grandfather traveled from his home in Fort Worth on many different train routes across the United States for Texas and the 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 journeys to Kansas City. He told of arriving at the nation's second largest railway station, Union Station downtown (Grand New York station, as the first) and seeing all the billboards at a height directly opposite the station (where the Westin Crown Center Hotel now sits) and then staying at the Streets Hotel for Blacks located in what is now known as the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District (a national district for historic sites in the United States).
My grandparents were happily married for 65 years. They raised seven children, all educated from the salary he received and the tips he earned from the many traveling passengers he served. My grandmother died in 1978 while my grandfather lived to be 99 years old and died on Thursday, June 9, 1988, just months before she turned 100.
Pullman Porters and their rich American history: George Pullman of the Pullman Palace Train Car Company was established in 1862, designed train cars and developed the Pullman luxury sleeper car used on trains for long and overnight travel. First introduced for the railroad in 1867, these train cars had carpets, curtains, upholstered chairs, libraries and card tables in addition to private bedrooms with beds and bathrooms for long train journeys.
Mr. Pullman had the idea of hiring a group of very prominent, good-natured, well-dressed African-American men to serve as Pullman Porters to help train travelers with what they needed while on board. This proved to be a great job for the porters and was considered a very prestigious job at what Mr. Pullman called a "Hotel on wheels".
During the 1920s, Mr. Pullman had over 9,800 Pullman train cars, and he employed over 12,000 African American porters. He was the largest employer of blacks in the country at that time.
The daily work of a Pullman Porter was long and arduous, but offered good wages over time and also offered the porters a chance to see the country. During the first few years they worked 400 hours per month and received 35 cents per hour or about $ 810.00 per year plus the tips they would come up with. This was good money and enabled them to take good care of their families and send their children to college. Their prestigious jobs also helped define the Black Middle Class of the time.
Pullman Porters were basically servants and had to endure all manner of degrading behavior from white travelers. There were many times when they were not called by the names, but rather referred to as "George" by George Pullman or just "boy" whom they all hated.
Their daily work included gliding shoes, linens, room service, luggage assistance or just about anything the traveling passenger might want or need. The better the service, the better the tips, they will hopefully receive. Sometimes a quarter and sometimes even a rare dollar if they provided very good service. In addition, the Pullman Company's labor policy was harsh and allowed the porters to sleep only four hours each night, and they had to pay for the uniforms, timber harvest and food.
On August 25, 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was founded by a black businessman, A. Philip Randolph. It was the country's first all-black workers union and helped pave the way for better employment benefits for the porters.
On August 25, 1937, the Pullman Company signed a labor agreement with Pullman Porters, which became the first employment agreement ever between black workers and a large American company. The result of the agreement included benefits such as reducing working hours from 400 per month to 250 and raising wages from $ 67.50 per month to a minimum of $ 89.50 per month.
Pullman Porters were highly respected members of the local communities and were credited for contributing to the development of the black middle class in America much like black doctors, lawyers and teachers of that time.
In 1968, the Pullman Company ended the operation of their sleeping cars, and several railway companies took over the Pullman Car function. The porters were transferred to companies such as Union Pacific Railroad and later Amtrak.
In conclusion, if you ever have a chance to ride the Amtrak train today and you notice a nice black man who takes care of all your needs, tip him well and remember the proud story of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and especially remember my grandfather, Pullman Porter John Jones "George" or "Boy".