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He Hired Formerly Enslaved Black Men Because They Knew How To Be 'Servile.' So They Formed A Union.

There once was a job that was critical to the nation's infrastructure and the spread of ideas and people across the nation, and it was done exclusively by African-American men. It also presented creative ways to work for a better world for everybody.

He Hired Formerly Enslaved Black Men Because They Knew How To Be 'Servile.' So They Formed A Union.
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“We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.” — Pullman workers




The Company

George Pullman was one of the most well-known capitalists and entrepreneurs during a time of few rights for workers and extreme inequality between the classes. He found his niche by making sleeping cars for the newly expanding post-Civil War railroad system that brought people to various places in the country on a much more frequent basis. He sought to improve that system with luxury sleeping cars so rail travel would be much easier and more pleasant. He added multiple layers of service over the next decades, including gourmet meals, ultra-clean cars, opulent furnishings, and most importantly, very professional staff to make the travelers feel pampered.

Sleeping cars existed before Pullman, but he turned them into an extravagant mode of travel that the newly emerging middle class and the wealthy wanted to experience. He made his first luxury car around the end of the Civil War, and in fact, his first Pullman train car was the one that brought Abraham Lincoln’s body home to Illinois from Washington; it was a brilliant form of advertising, and it worked, since it was seen by millions. Orders piled up overnight from train companies.



The Workers

One of the key features of Pullman trains was the service. Pullman hired thousands of former slaves who had the experience of “serving” masters and their families, which translated to the clientele. But there was a strict divide among the labor: White conductors collected tickets and sold upgrades along the routes, while African-American porters carried luggage, cleaned the cars, shined shoes, cooked and served meals, and made travelers feel pampered. In addition to this divide was one of wages — white workers received on average six times as much as the porters, which meant the porters relied heavily on tips.

Meanwhile, next to the factory where he made these luxury train cars in Chicago, Pullman built housing, grocery stores, and just about everything else his workers would want. It sounds convenient, right? But company towns like this were prime opportunities for Pullman to screw his workers over by raising prices and rents at will, punishing and evicting anybody who dared to try to improve conditions or wages, and more. He prohibited independent newspapers and public speeches by the residents. His staff regularly inspected the workers’ housing to make sure that they were clean and could evict anybody with a few days’ notice.

All of this, plus a reduction in wages for longer work hours after the 1893 depression hit, resulted in a massive strike in 1894 that was ended by federal troops, ordered by President Grover Cleveland.



Hey, Porter

The real profit for Pullman was in filling the rail cars and providing a high-end service that people would pay for. Pullman sleeping cars expanded to even more markets. At its peak in the 1920s, there were 20,000 porters on the job — the most African-Americans employed by any company in history. There were a few women working on these trains as well; about one maid for every 50 porters was an African-American woman.

One of the few well-paying jobs for African-American men at the time, it was rather a treasured position to get. But the work was grueling; 400 hours a month on the job or 11,000 miles of travel were the minimum to get full-time pay. Basically, they lived on the trains — for around $22,000 a year in today’s dollars, supplemented by tips. They paid for their own clothing and lodging on layovers, and if any of the passengers made off with pillows or blankets, it was taken from their pay.

But the work hours were one of the biggest problems. When they slept, it was on couches in the smoking car, hidden from the passengers. In other words, they couldn’t even use the sleeping cars when they got their average three hours of sleep per night.

Additionally, it was a common practice for the porters to be called either “George” or a commonly used racial slur that begins with the letter “N.” And, effectively, “George” meant the same thing.

From 1909 to 1913, porters tried unsuccessfully to unionize three times to address some of these issues. In response, the company began its own union, which was of course a sham. But it distracted the efforts of workers long enough that it delayed further efforts at unionizing for another 12 years.

In 1925, the fledgling union elected A. Philip Randolph to head up the unionizing drive. He was a highly skilled labor and community organizer but never a porter and hadn’t even ridden on a luxury train car because African-Americans were not allowed to ride on the very cars that the porters serviced.



The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

As soon as the union was formed, it put together a list of demands of the Pullman company:

1. A significant pay raise

2. Abolishing the practice of tipping

3. Adequate rest breaks

4. Increasing pensions

5. A name card in each car with the actual name of the porter

Since tips would often be more than actual wages, it seems counterintuitive that they would want to abolish them, right? But in reality, to get those tips, workers had to be subservient and rigidly obedient to white clientele. Removing them and raising wages would effectively remove one of the more humiliating parts of their job.

Of course, the company refused and began firing and spying on the organizers and union sympathizers. Everything had to go underground, including secret handshakes and passwords. A ladies' auxiliary unit composed of the wives of porters was formed, which was arguably one of the most critical components of the secret operations. One thing working in their favor was that trains going from city to city across the country provided great opportunities for distribution of literature, news, job information, and more.

It took 12 years for the porters to succeed. One key to victory was the 1935 passage of the National Labor Relations Act (with some pressure by Franklin Delano Roosevelt), which gave unions legal legs when it came to organizing and prevented some of the company's intimidation tactics used to keep the union from forming. 1935 was the first negotiating session between the company and the union. That same year, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became the first African-American union recognized by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The union signed its first contract with Pullman in August 1937.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, fresh off a significant victory, went on to help integrate other jobs and unions across the country.

If you have the time (about a half-hour), here is an absolutely wonderful podcast from the folks at "Stuff You Missed in History Class."

It fills in a lot of fascinating details that complete the story nicely, including the achievements of the Brotherhood and A. Philip Randolph leading up to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.

A final, rather fascinating note: George Pullman was so reviled by the people who worked for him that he left specific instructions to be entombed in concrete and steel so that workers wouldn’t defile his body.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


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Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


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Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

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Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


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Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.