The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the first national union of any profession to be organized by African Americans. For over five decades, the brotherhood worked to oppose racism and class prejudice in hiring practices, both within and outside the transportation industry, and many of its members became leaders of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was secretly organized on August 25, 1925, under the leadership of journalist and activist A. Philip
The union’s creation challenged the severely restrictive labor policies of the privately held Pullman Company, the chief manufacturer and operator of railroad sleeping cars in the American market. The company did not recognize the legitimacy of independent labor organizations and refused to deal with them, preferring instead to maintain a company union under its complete control. The first nine years of the brotherhood’s existence were marked by struggles not only against the company but also against white organized labor organizations such as the American Federation of Labor, which were indifferent to racially
A. Philip Randolph.
The economic impact of the Great Depression provided the brotherhood with opportunities more effectively to challenge unfair practices, and the
The interstate mobility of the brotherhood’s members also allowed them to use the rails as a network over which information and strategies could be widely shared. The union helped create local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and distributed copies of the Chicago Defender across the South to educate prospective migrants seeking jobs in the North and Midwest about the job markets they would find in those regions.
On February 28, 1978, the brotherhood merged with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks. This merger reflected the diminished importance of railway travel in the United States, the 1970 collapse of the Penn Central Railroad (which had merged with the Pullman Company), and a decline in the union’s membership that was due to the aging and changing employment patterns of African Americans in the national workforce.
Chateuvert, Melinda. Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. Harris, William H. Keeping the Faith: A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Wilson, Joseph W. Tearing Down the Color Bar: A Documentary History and Analysis of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
A. Philip Randolph
World War II