The travel & tourism industry paints a romantic picture of train travel. For workers on the rails, however, this has not always been the case.
Railway travel with sleeping accommodations was gaining steam as far back as the late 1800s. The Pullman company recruited many black men who were then employed as porters. While this work helped earn as decent an income as possible for African-Americans in those days, the working conditions were dismal. Porters couldn’t be promoted and their need of an income coupled with racism allowed the railway companies to exploit them with unjust practices.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), a labour union founded in 1925, sought to protect the rights of African-American employees of the Pullman company. A. Phillip Randolph, who led the formation of this union, became its first president.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the first all Black union and first African-American union to receive a charter with the American Federation of Labour. With Randolph’s guidance, Canadian chapters soon followed.
Stanley G. Grizzle, a Canadian of Jamaican heritage, was president of the Toronto division of the BSCP from 1946-1962. He had worked as a sleeping car porter with the Canadian Pacific Railroad and chronicled his experiences in a book entitled “Don’t Call Me George.”
For more about Grizzle, click here.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is also credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.