Saturday, March 1, 2008


The Newberry Library's always-informative blog points to a recent Washington Post story about Pullman porters, and uses that news peg to remind us of the Newberry's gargantuan 2500-cubic-foot of Pullman company papers, most of which are open to researchers. Here is the 808-page guide to the collection (PDF). The company employed an unusually diverse workforce, so the genealogical possibilities are good if you know what you're doing.

My closest brush with the collection so far has been reading Susan Eleanor Hirsch's fascinating 2003 book based on it, After the Strike: A Century of Labor Struggle at Pullman. It's a history with a complex argument, and real people make regular appearances:

In 1940 the upholsterer Tillman Davis took action and accused his foreman of discrimination against black workers in assigning overtime. Davis, who had been hired as a helper-apprentice at the Calumet Repair Shop after the 1922 strike, experienced the best that Pullman repair shops had to offer black men....but he was not satisfied with less than complete equality. The shop manager threatened Davis with a thirty-day suspension for insubordination unless he retracted the charge and apologized for the language he used. Davis readily apologized for the way he had made his charge but refused to retract its substance. He accepted the thirty-day suspension and returned to the shop, a symbol of black assertion but also a reminder of management's power in the absence of a real union. {157-158}

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