Pullman porter at the Union Station in Chicago, Illinois. Photo Credit: © Jack Delano via Library of Congress.

United States – Pullman Porters

Starting shortly after the Civil War circa 1860s, the Pullman Company hired formerly enslaved Black people to work as porters on their sleeper cars. They became known as the Pullman Porters.

Their job was to carry passengers’ baggage, shine shoes, set up and maintain the sleeping berths, and serve passengers. Pullman Porters served American railroads from the late 1860s until the Pullman Company ceased operations on December 31, 1968, though some sleeping-car porters continued working on cars operated by the railroads themselves.

While underpaid, the porters have been credited with contributing to the Black middle-class development in America. Their influence also helped to fuel the Great Migration and under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, Pullman Porters formed the first all-Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925.

The formation of the union was instrumental in the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement.


  • Powe, Jr., Lucas A. 2018. America’s Lone Star Constitution: How Supreme Court Cases from Texas Shape the Nation. Oakland: University of California Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0520297814.
  • Porterfield, James D. 1993. Dining By Rail: The History and Recipes of America’s Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. p. 79. ISBN 9780312187118.
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