Brotherhoods Of Color

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Overview

From the time the first tracks were laid in the early nineteenth century, the railroad has occupied a crucial place in America's historical imagination. Now, for the first time, Eric Arnesen gives us an untold piece of that vital American institution—the story of African Americans on the railroad.

African Americans have been a part of the railroad from its inception, but today they are largely remembered as Pullman porters and track layers. The real history is far richer, a tale of endless struggle, perseverance, and partial victory. In a sweeping narrative, Arnesen re-creates the heroic efforts by black locomotive firemen, brakemen, porters, dining car waiters, and redcaps to fight a pervasive system of racism and job discrimination fostered by their employers, white co-workers, and the unions that legally represented them even while barring them from membership.

Decades before the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the mid-1950s, black railroaders forged their own brand of civil rights activism, organizing their own associations, challenging white trade unions, and pursuing legal redress through state and federal courts. In recapturing black railroaders' voices, aspirations, and challenges, Arnesen helps to recast the history of black protest and American labor in the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Arnesen provides a fascinating look at U.S. labor and commerce in the arena of the railroads, so much a part of romantic notions about the growth of the nation. The focus of the book is the troubled history of the railroads in the exploitation of black workers from slavery until the civil rights movement, with an insightful analysis of the broader racial integration brought about by labor activism.
— Vanessa Bush

Chicago Tribune

Arnesen tells a story that should be of interest to a variety of readers, including those who are avid students of this country's railroads. He knows his stuff, and furthermore, reminds us of how dependent American railroads were on the backbreaking labor of racial and ethnic groups whose civil and political status were precarious at best: Irish, Chinese, Mexicans and Italians, as well as African-Americans. But Arnesen's most powerful and provocative argument is that the nature of discrimination not only led black railroad workers to pursue the path of independent unionism, it also propelled them into the larger struggle for civil rights.
— Steven Hahn

Booklist - Vanessa Bush
Arnesen provides a fascinating look at U.S. labor and commerce in the arena of the railroads, so much a part of romantic notions about the growth of the nation. The focus of the book is the troubled history of the railroads in the exploitation of black workers from slavery until the civil rights movement, with an insightful analysis of the broader racial integration brought about by labor activism.
Chicago Tribune - Steven Hahn
Arnesen tells a story that should be of interest to a variety of readers, including those who are avid students of this country's railroads. He knows his stuff, and furthermore, reminds us of how dependent American railroads were on the backbreaking labor of racial and ethnic groups whose civil and political status were precarious at best: Irish, Chinese, Mexicans and Italians, as well as African-Americans. But Arnesen's most powerful and provocative argument is that the nature of discrimination not only led black railroad workers to pursue the path of independent unionism, it also propelled them into the larger struggle for civil rights.
Chicago Tribune
Arnesen tells a story that should be of interest to a variety of readers, including those who are avid students of this country's railroads. He knows his stuff, and furthermore, reminds us of how dependent American railroads were on the backbreaking labor of racial and ethnic groups whose civil and political status were precarious at best: Irish, Chinese, Mexicans and Italians, as well as African-Americans. But Arnesen's most powerful and provocative argument is that the nature of discrimination not only led black railroad workers to pursue the path of independent unionism, it also propelled them into the larger struggle for civil rights.
— Steven Hahn
Booklist
Arnesen provides a fascinating look at U.S. labor and commerce in the arena of the railroads, so much a part of romantic notions about the growth of the nation. The focus of the book is the troubled history of the railroads in the exploitation of black workers from slavery until the civil rights movement, with an insightful analysis of the broader racial integration brought about by labor activism.
— Vanessa Bush
Steven Hahn
Arnesen tells a story that should be of interest to a variety of readers, including those who are avid students of this country's railroads. He knows his stuff, and furthermore, reminds us of how dependent American railroads were on the backbreaking labor of racial and ethnic groups whose civil and political status were precarious at best: Irish, Chinese, Mexicans and Italians, as well as African-Americans. But Arnesen's most powerful and provocative argument is that the nature of discrimination not only led black railroad workers to pursue the path of independent unionism, it also propelled them into the larger struggle for civil rights.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Since their inception nearly two centuries ago, railroads have provided black men (and some women) with steady employment. Paradoxically, though many track layers, porters, brakemen, firemen, waiters and redcaps were able to make a good living, the railroad industry was one of the most institutionalized forms of racism in the U.S. (e.g., blacks were legally represented by the same unions that forbade them membership), maintains Eric Arnesen, professor of history at the University of Illinois. Brotherhood of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality is Arnesen's exhaustive and illuminating work of scholarship. ( Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this superbly written monograph, Arnesen (history, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago; Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923) shows how African American railroad workers combined civil rights and labor union activism in their struggles for racial equality in the workplace. The author details the history--especially the 1910s through the 1950s--of black railroaders who developed various strategies to combat the railroad industry's institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination and the violence of employers and white labor unionists. Throughout, black locomotive firemen, porters, yardmen, and other railroaders speak eloquently about the work they performed and their confrontations with racist treatment. Arnesen discusses the significance of the "New Negro," the New Deal, the Fair Employment Practice Committee, the contested role of the federal government, the Red Caps, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and other independent black railroad labor unions. This history of the "aristocrats" of the African American working class is highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.--Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674008175
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2002
  • Pages: 354
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Arnesen is Professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Chicago at Illinois.
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Table of Contents

Prologue

1. Race in the First Century of American Railroading

2. Promise and Failure in the World War I Era

3. The Black Wedge of Civil Rights Unionism

4. Independent Black Unionism in Depression and War

5. The Rise of the Red Caps

6. The Politics of Fair Employment

7. The Politics of Fair Representation

8. Black Railroaders in the Modern Era

Conclusion

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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