Dick Meister @ Truthout - Few of the groups that we should honor during Black History Month are more deserving than the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a pioneering union that played a key role in the winning of equal rights for African-Americans.
The union, the first to be founded by African-Americans, was involved as much in political as in economic activity, joining with the NAACP to serve as the major political vehicle of African-Americans from the late 1930's through the 1950's. It led the drives in those years against racial discrimination in employment, housing, education and other areas that laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1960's.
The need for a porters' union was distressingly obvious. Porters commonly worked 12 or more hours a day, six or even seven days a week, on the Pullman Company's luxurious sleeping car coaches for a mere $72.50 a month. And out of that, they had to pay for their meals, uniforms, even the polish they used to shine passengers' shoes.
They got no fringe benefits, although they could ride the trains for half-fare on their days off - providing they were among the very few with the time and money to do so. And providing they didn't ride a Pullman coach. Read more.