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The First All-Black Labor Union

In 1894, president Grover Cleveland officially designated Labor Day a holiday in the US to honor the labor movement, which has many roots in Chicago. That year, thousands of workers at the Pullman Company went on strike in response to their wages being cut while rent in the “company town” of Pullman on Chicago’s South Side remained the same.

In our latest blog post, CHM assistant curator Brittany Hutchinson recounts how the Pullman Company’s porters formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the first all-Black labor union in the US, in 1925 to address low wages, long hours, and mistreatment from passengers. By 1935, the BSCP was the first African American union organization to be granted membership into the American Federation of Labor. Read the post.

From left: Announcement of the postponement of a Pullman porter strike, 1928. CHM, ICHi-061917. A meeting of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 1927. CHM, ICHi-02567. A certificate of membership in the American Federation of Labor through the Sleeping Car Porters for Archibald Motley, 1929. CHM, ICHi-061920.

What would you do for freedom?

In the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Founding Fathers set out to define American freedom. But they didn’t have the last word. Since then, generations of Americans have built on this foundation, seeking to perfect our ideas of freedom. Our exhibition Facing Freedom in America spotlights eight moments in our nation’s past when Americans struggled over the meaning of freedom, including the Pullman Porters’ fight to organize. Learn more.

Studs Terkel Radio Archive

In his forty-five years on WFMT radio, Studs Terkel talked to the twentieth century’s most fascinating people, including workers, union leaders, and labor experts. As in his book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974), Terkel introduced listeners to the many folks struggling to get by. Listen now.

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago's Stories
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