Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pullman Porters: Rising From The Rails

video
from the film's site

About Pullman Porters
Rising from near-servitude in the years following the Civil War, Pullman Porters became the backbone of the rail industry and ambassadors of culture between the worlds of privileged whites and the black community. The era of the Pullman Porters, which begins at the abolition of slavery and ends when Pullman ceased its sleeping car service in 1969, encapsulates the evolution of African-Americans from post-slavery disenfranchisement to full participation in the social, economic and political fabric of America.
Just after the Civil War, George Pullman began recruiting black men as porters on his new luxurious rail cars. They were hired not merely because of their strong work ethic and disarming dispositions, but because they epitomized Pullman's vision of safe, reliable, and invisible servants. For over a century, in the intimate confines of railcars that traversed the nation, the Pullman Porter served as waiter, nanny, valet, concierge, and occasionally confidant to well-heeled white passengers. He also endured grueling workloads, daily indignities, and outright humiliations with a duty-bound smile that belied his strength and determination.
With steady jobs and worldly views, Pullman Porters enjoyed a different reputation in black communities. They were respected as stalwarts of the economy and emissaries of news, culture, and ideas from the outside world. They became trailblazers in the struggle for African American dignity and self-sufficiency, patriarchs of black labor unions, and helped give birth to the Civil Rights Movement.
About the Film
Based on the best-selling book by Larry Tye, Rising from the Rails: The Story of the Pullman Porter chronicles the relatively unheralded Pullman Porters, generations of African American men who served as caretakers to wealthy white passengers on luxury trains that traversed the nation in the golden age of rail travel. Unbeknownst to most of their white passengers, porters played critical political and cultural roles; bringing elements of white culture to black communities, helping spread jazz and the blues from cities to rural communities, and bringing news, organizing skills, and seditious ideas about freedom from the urban North to the segregated South. Pullman Porters became trailblazers in the struggle for African American dignity and self-sufficiency, became patriarchs of black labor unions, and helped give birth to the Civil Rights Movement. Ultimately, however, their greatest legacy is that which they left to future generations—strong ethics, self-respect, and a deep value for education, embodied in their children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, who now number among the most successful black political and business leaders, athletes, entertainers, civic leaders, jurists, doctors, and other members of the black middle and professional classes in America. Rising from the Rails pays tribute to these men who rose—with dignity—from the rails.
In addition to the former porters interviewed, surviving family members remember other porters who have sadly passed away. Also interviewed are experts such as Larry Tye, author of Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class, William F. Howes, Jr., a former director of the Pullman Company, author, and recognized expert on passenger rail transportation, and Dr, Juliet E.K. Walker, Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, and an expert on black business history.

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