901 West Pratt St. Baltimore, MD 21223 / The B&O Railroad Museum brings alive the adventure of railroading. This historic national landmark allows you to see, touch, hear and explore the most important
Pictured here is the crew of the Capitol Limited showing the diversity of the B&O Railroad. It is unquestioned that race and policy limited opportunities to African-Americans. Those African-American men and women who endured many forms of racism; however, they helped pave the way to our greater appreciation of cultural diversity in today’s railroad.
Many Pullman porters played an important role in what has come to be known as the Great Migration. They acted as a covert intelligence network for the African-American rail travelers who left the south in search of better opportunities in northern cities during the first three decades of the twentieth century. They passed on information about the safest routes and people to contact for a safe haven as they proceeded on their often perilous journey
B&O advertisements often featured African-American staff.Their smiles were seen as part of the uniform and often hid the long hours spent on their feet serving thousands of hungry travelers. In addition to waiting tables, waiters were responsible for: cleaning and setting tables before and between meals; placing table clothes, napkins, and place settings, and ensuring the dishes and silver were clean and free of fingerprints. They sometimes had to sleep in the dining car during off hours.
Today’s B&O Employee is Harry W. Snowden, Porter on the Diplomat Snowden entered service for the B&O in 1907 as a porter in Cumberland. He began in the days when gas lights were lit with tapers and passenger car’s water cooler had a single communal glass on a string. He said his secret was “To keep the passengers smiling,” and “…an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s pay…”
On Oct 16,1859, John Brown led small group of raiders into Harpers Ferry,VA. Brown intended to incite a slave revolt and capture weapons. Brown’s men captured the bridge that carried the B&O tracks over the Potomac. The raiders stopped an approaching pass. train near Harper’s Ferry station. Heyward Shepherd, a free black who worked for B&O as a baggage handler went to investigate. He was met by two raiders who demanded his surrender. He turned to run and was shot.
The B&O prided itself on the quality and service provided by its largely African-American dining car and commissary staff. The B&O’s employee magazine was filled with complimentary letters extoling these qualities to promote and highlight its service. The compliments were well earned and well deserved when one considers the physical conditions of a dining car and challenges faced by B&O’s chefs and cooking staff.
The B&O’s African-Americans baggage handlers were known as red caps for their distinctive head-gear. They assisted loading and unloading heavy luggage and often assisted the station master as necessary. This poem appeared in the B&O’s employee magazine, while listed under pride of the B&O and highlighting service, shows racist overtones no doubt faced on a daily basis by the hard-working staff.
In the 1870s, northern industrialist George Mortimer Pullman recruited former slaves as porters onboard his new sleeping cars. These porters were charged with the responsibility of providing the utmost service to his passengers. By the 1920s, Pullman was the largest private employer of African Americans. Nevertheless, the career had its roots in slavery and perpetuated negative stereotypes of African Americans as servants.
World War II allowed more opportunities for African-Americans to fill jobs on the B&O Railroad. Here cleaners use a scrubbing machine to clean seat cushions at the Mount Clare shops in 1943. Pictured are Gussie Davis (left) and Mary Franklin. Davis steadies the cushion while Mary lowers the lever to operate the brushes.
An African-American laborer for the B&O unloads bananas at the B&O’s Locust Point fruit pier. The Locust Point operation prepped refrigerator cars and loaded barges that traveled to Pier 1 located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (known as the basin and pier 1 is the current location for the USS Constellation).
Today’s B&O Employee is Jacob Thompson, Brass Cleaner and Porter Born March 19, 1849, Thompson entered B&O service on September 18, 1872, in the old B&O General Office Building. He began by sweeping floors and emptying trash. He worked his way up and served as a messenger in the office of B&O President John Work Garrett in the 1880’s at the Camden Station. He moved to the General Office Building when it opened. Jake was still in service of the B&O at the time of his death on January 2, 1922
10 Astonishing Facts About the Black Men and Women Responsible for America’s Railroad Systems
African-Americans worked in the commissary department providing dining cars with the critical supplies to keep passengers fed. In this image, commissary assistants Hendricks Clark and Charles Wright load supplies for Thanksgiving while a manager looks on at the Camden Station Commissary in November, 1960. The Camden commissary supported all dining cars on the eastern end of the B&O. Other commissaries with similar operations were located in Chicago and Cincinnati.
Preparing food for large gatherings is always difficult but B&O crews faced the added challenge of cramped quarters, rocking tables, and a kitchen that moved at speeds up to 80 miles an hour. Just imagine preparing Thanksgiving dinner for countless travelers in a kitchen the size of a closet being shared by several cooks, much less carving a turkey at high speeds with the rhythmic motion of the car under your feet.