A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


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.

“During C.L. Dellums’ long career as Brotherhood’s vice president, the union played a key role in every significant civil rights struggle from the Montgomery bus boycott to the March on Washington. Working from a humble office above a billiard hall on Seventh Street in West Oakland, Dellums helped lead the campaign to ban ‘whites-only’ hiring practices in defense industries, setting the stage for a massive influx from the South to California during World War II, when shipyards hired tens of thousands of Black migrants.” -From the Black Liberation Walking Tour. (Art: Bay Area Mural Program)
“[Being a porter is] a hard job with long hours, low pay, and a mean boss… what do you have to lose besides your chains?” -C.L. Dellums. [Image: Screenshot from award-winning Pullman Porters documentary “Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle“]
This Pullman Porter hat and photograph of former porter Jesse Ford and his wife Marcella are part of the Oakland Museum of California’s current exhibit “Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism.”
Because the Pullman Porters helped spread Black newspapers and other emerging culture throughout the country, historian Susan D. Anderson describes them as “harbingers of new experiences for the whole community.” Listen to the new podcast episode now to hear more of Anderson’s thoughts on the porters and their legacy.
A statue of C.L. Dellums resides in front of the Oakland Amtrak Station that bears his name. For more info on Dellums, check out the Oakland Wiki and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland.

Listen to the episode via Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts.

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“The porters were fed up”

C.L. Dellums and the rise of America’s first Black union
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