African American railroad workers

African American Pullman porters stand in front of a Pullman sleeping car.
African American porters stand in front of a Pullman Company sleeping car.
Prior to the Civil War, nearly every railroad in the American South was built using slave labor. During the Civil War (1861-1865), U.S. Military Railroads (USMRR) employed thousands of African Americans in the strategically important effort of moving men and materials, enabling the North to achieve victory.

Historians are confident that African American workers contributed to the completion of the monumental efforts of completing the Transcontinental Railroad. However, virtually no records exist. After the completion of the railroad they worked in a variety of positions, including firemen, engineers, porters, dining car waiters, and station ushers. One notable example was the Pullman Company, which was the nation's largest employer of African Americans at the time. Pullman porters, who were all African American, comprised 44% of the Pullman rail car operation workforce. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was founded in 1925 as the first African American union in the nation. Their Civil Rights' work was instrumental in the advocacy for labor rights and equality.

In addition to their work on the railroad, African Americans also played a significant role in the development of the American West. They helped to build towns and cities, establish businesses, and create a new way of life. Their contributions to the West are often overlooked, but they are an essential part of the region's history.

Golden Spike is proud to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to the railroad and the American West. We are committed to telling the full story of our nation's history, and we are grateful to the many African Americans who have helped to build and shape our country.

Last updated: August 13, 2023

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