The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the first union of African Americans to gain real economic bargaining power with an employer.
The porters were almost all employees of the Pullman Co., which from the 1870s through the 1950s, employed more African Americans than any other single firm in the U.S. The Pullman Co. claimed it was the "largest hotel operation in America," providing in its heyday some 100,000 beds a night to its sleeping-car passengers. Pullman cars were almost all sleeping cars (or "sleepers"), with "sections" that converted from day seating to night-time berths, and usually with a few "compartments" - separate, small rooms with their own toilet and sink and one or more berths. Porters - one assigned per car - were on call throughout the day and night to serve their passengers. Hours were stressful, but because of the Brotherhood's bargaining, pay was good compared to many other jobs open to African Americans before the late 1960s. At home, porters were frequently leaders in their communities.
Porters were extremely proud of their union, which was led for most of its history by A. Phillip Randolph, who also became a leading figure in civil-rights issues, from the 1920s into the 1960s. Randolph was Chair of the 1963 March on Washington.
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