Museum pays tribute to Pullman Porters

African American Gallery of Ethnic Heritage Museum offers Pullman Porters exhibit in honor of Black History Month

For Black History Month 2006, the African American Gallery of the Ethnic Heritage Museum has announced its new exhibit saluting the first black union, “The Brotherhood of Pullman Porters.”

Black Pullman Porters were as much part of long-distance train travel as flight attendants are today on planes. Porters helped passengers to board trains, handled baggage, shined shoes, made berths, cleaned cars and sold tickets.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the union in which these men were members, was the first successful union controlled by African Americans.

When it was founded in 1925, black workers were barred from membership in any of the existing trade unions.

The exhibit will feature “The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters” and A. Philip Randolph. Randolph was instrumental in organizing the “Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters” and the 1963 “March on Washington.”

The Ethnic Heritage Museum, at 1129 S. Main St., in Rockford, is a six-room house built in the 1850s. A distinct ethnic group sponsors each room or gallery in the house, including African American, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish and Hispanic. A visit to each room gives insight into the values and traditions of each of these groups, and an appreciation of the contributions these groups made to life in Rockford.

The Black History Month exhibit will start Sunday, Feb. 5, from 2 to 4 p.m., and run every Sunday until the end of February. “The Brotherhood of Pullman Porters” is part of the museum-wide celebration “Riding the Rail” in honor of the men who served on the rail system.

Admission is free to all members, $2 for nonmembers and $1 for children younger than 12. The museum is handicap accessible. Tours can be arranged by calling 962-7402.

From the Jan. 25-31, 2006, issue

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