Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Photograph Collection

Institution: Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: (312) 642-4600
Date: 1930-1969
Extent: 2.26 Linear Feet
Finding Aid

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:
Primarily group portraits taken at conferences, meetings and events of the BSCP and International Ladies Auxiliary, established in 1925 and 1931, respectively. Includes meetings with U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Several photos depict unidentified Black speakers at these events. Also includes photos of founding members A. Philip Randolph and Milton P. Webster, and Halena Wilson, president of the auxiliary. Some photos locate events in Chicago. One event may be a religious service or a meeting in a church. A few photos show Ernest Smith of the Chicago Division offices and labor parades in St. Louis and New York. Many photos are unidentified.

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