Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Records

Institution: Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: (312) 642-4600
Date: 1925-1977
Extent: 61 Linear Feet
Finding Aid
Access to this collection is restricted; please contact the holding institution for details.

Biographical/Historical Note:
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was the first successful trade union of African American workers in the United States. It began in New York City on Aug 25, 1925, by a small group of Pullman Porters and A. Philip Randolph, an editor and labor advocate. Milton P. Webster, a former porter, began organizing the Chicago Division of the BSCP in Nov of the same year. Over the next twelve years, the Chicago Division emerged as the heart of the international BSCP because of its devotion to the union's fight for recognition. Chicago, as a railroad hub of the nation and the home of nearly one-fourth of the Pullman porter work force, was a logical place to launch a campaign for improvement in the working condition of the porters. Chicago was also the headquarters of the Pullman Company, which had a notorious record of anti-union activity.

Among the objectives of the BSCP were the advancement of the social, moral, and material interests of its members; lawful efforts to raise members' standard of living; and the maintenance of harmonious relations with employers. Grievances that the BSCP sought to redress included low wages; long work hours; lack of pay for time spent in preparing cars and receiving passengers; insufficient rest opportunities for porters during and between trips; requirements that porters-in-charge perform conductor's work without additional compensation; and lack of collective bargaining privileges.

The union was officially dissolved during the last convention of the BSCP, held on Feb 28, 1978. The thousand remaining members merged with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks.

Scope and Content Note:
The collection consists of correspondence, minutes, reports, grievances, scrapbooks, clippings, fliers, newsletters, and publications; topical, financial, and membership files; and sound recordings of speeches, interviews, and conferences that were created by or collected by the Chicago Division office of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first national African American trade union. Milton P. Webster's files that contain agendas, minutes, correspondence, and reports pertinent to his position on the President's committee of Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) and correspondence with A. Philip Randolph are present. The records of the BSCP International Ladies' Auxiliary include correspondence, financial and membership files, printed materials from the Ladies' Auxiliary of the BSCP and particularly of its president, Mrs. Halena Wilson of Chicago. The collection also includes a St. Louis Division of the BSCP scrapbook containing clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, handbills, photographs, and news releases relative to the proposed Mar on Washington. Material on the FEPC, and other civil rights issues is also included. Forty percent of the collection was microfilmed for purchase by University Publications of America.

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