In the early 20th century, the largest employer of Black men in the United States was the Pullman Car Company, which operated luxurious trains that carried millions of passengers around the booming nation in an era before airplanes and interstate highways. Ever since the company’s founding during the Civil War, Pullman exclusively hired Black men as porters to keep the train cars clean and serve the white passengers. Although the job was prestigious, by the 1920s porters were fed up with the low pay, long hours, and abusive conditions. Their struggle to unionize became one of the most significant civil rights conflicts of the pre-WWII era and laid the groundwork for the movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. in later years.
This episode explores how Oakland’s C.L. Dellums helped the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters triumph over one of the nation’s most powerful corporations, and also his massive impact on challenging widespread racial discrimination throughout California. Dellums helped make jobs in wartime industries available to Black workers, setting the stage for the “second great migration” on the West Coast; he organized early protests against police brutality; and he helped end widespread racial segregation among powerful labor unions. His goal was nothing short of “total freedom and equality.”
Today’s guest is Susan D. Anderson, the History Curator and Program Manager at the California African American Museum, and the author of a forthcoming book on California’s Black history. This episode also features a segment from the Black Liberation Walking Tour which includes the voices of C.L. Dellums and his daughter Marva. Listen now via Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts.
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