Resources for the history of Black railroaders

Image gallery
Featuring photographs from the Center’s collection


Black railroaders have contributed—and continue to contribute—mightily to the North American rail system and our history in general.

Our railroads could not have flourished, or in many cases operated at all, without Black railroaders’ contributions. Enslaved and free Black Americans built railroad lines. And from the railroad industry’s beginnings, Black railroaders have played integral roles in railroad operations.

On many American railroads, labor was segregated through the 1960s. Black railroaders could be brakemen, firemen, attendants, chefs, mechanics, and laborers, but not engineers, conductors, or other supervisory roles.

In spite of the inequities they faced, Black railroaders facilitated service and developed expertise. Some, including Elijah McCoy, Granville T. Woods, Andrew Jackson Beard, and William Hunter Dammond, used their first-hand knowledge of railroad technologies to became inventors. They patented dozens of innovations that transformed railroads, including the automatic lubricator, Jenny Coupler, and induction telegraph.

In addition, Black railroaders, including those of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, advocated for fair employment and spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement.

We will add more images to the gallery as we find them in our collections. If you know of additional resources that we could add to our listing here, please send us an email: info [at]


Read about K.D. Ganaway’s making of the beautiful 1918 image “The Spirit of Transportation,” featuring two 20th Century Limited trains at Chicago. Founder John Gruber researched his life and work for the third issue of Railroad Heritage and the article can be found here, from our archives.


A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
10406 S. Maryland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60628

Historic Pullman Foundation
11141 S. Cottage Grove Avenue
(112th Street & Cottage Grove Avenue)
Chicago, IL


Kornweibel Jr., Theodore. Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Arnesen, Eric. Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2002.

Tye, Larry. Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class. New York, Holt Paperbacks, 2005.

Perata, David D. Those Pullman Blues: An Oral History of the African American Railroad Attendant. New York, Twayne Publishers, 1996.


10,000 Black Men Named George. Directed by Robert Townsend, written by Cyrus Nowrasteh, performances by Andre Braugher, Charles S. Dutton, and Mario Van Peebles, Paramount, 2002.

Oral history projects

Robert C. Hayden Interviews the “Knights of the Rail”: An Oral History of Black American Railroad Workers in Boston, University Archives & Special Collections in the Healey Library at UMass Boston

Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection, Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries

Other websites

A. Philip Randolph, American Experience

Pullman Porters, the History Channel

How Pullman Porters Influenced a Generation of Black Train Travelers, Condé Nast Traveler

Pullman Porters, the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University

The Pullman Strike, Encyclopedia Britannica

The African-American Railroad Experience, an interview with author Theodore Kornweibel Jr. on KPBS San Diego

African Americans and the Railroad: Gauley Bridge Depot; Gauley Bridge, WV, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Five Things to Know About Pullman Porters, Smithsonian magazine

Pullman Porters: Topics in Chronicling America, a Library of Congress Research Guide

The Transcontinental Railroad, African Americans and the California Dream, an article by Alison Rose Jefferson for the California Historical Society

African Americans and the Railroad, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Impact of Black Inventors on the Railroad, Union Pacific

5 Black American Rail Pioneers, Northeast Maglev