History classes in the U.S. – at least in Holly’s and my experience – focus much of their discussion of the civil rights movement on things African-Americans were not allowed to do before it happened. Most of the context relates to segregated restrooms, schools and bus seats, and on restrictions on voting. But there’s a whole other side to that story: the things that only African-Americans were allowed to do. After the abolition of slavery, whole industries hired exclusively African-American workers in order to maintain a sort of plantationesque veneer. This pattern continued to subjugate black people long after slavery was over.
This episode talks about one of those jobs, and the organization that helped make their lives better: the sleeping car porters and the union they formed in the 1920s. This union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, became an important force in the larger context of the civil rights movement.
Here’s a link to our notes and research.