Labor and Race Relations

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Labor and Race

The subject of race was inexorably tied to labor relations at the Pullman Company. The railroad industry -- and in particular, Pullman -- was the 2nd largest employer of African-Americans in the United States by 1910. The many strikes of the Pullman Company employees, whether they were Pullman Porters, factory workers, or workers in the Pullman Brickyards were a very real and often bitter part of the Pullman story.

Race Relations

African-Americans had a complex relationship with the Pullman Company, the Pullman family, with Robert Todd Lincoln, who succeed George Pullman as president of the company. The Pullman Palace Car Company was appreciated for its commitment to hiring African-Americans and paying them in a fairly equitable manner. Many porters were fiercely protective of both George Pullman and later of his widow Harriet and Pullman's family. In 1920, the Pullman Company was the 4th largest employer of African-Americans in Illinois and the 2nd largest employer in the nation.

A member of the board of the Pullman Bank, Robert Todd Lincoln became the second president of the Pullman Company, elevated to the thankless task of rescuing the Pullman Company from insolvency after Pullman's death. He performed this task with ruthless efficiency, making life difficult for Pullman porters and other passenger car personnel by inaugurating a wage system heavily dependent on tips.

While black faces weren't unknown to the Pullman and Roseland neighborhoods, they were few and far between. Few African-Americans lived in Pullman and Roseland before 1920; after the 1919 race riots, the number dwindled to almost nothing.

Learn more about race relations

Labor Relations

Militia outside the Arcade Building
Militia patrol outside of the Arcade Building

On Friday, May 11th, 1894, at 9:00 a.m. Pullman workers orderly "walked out" of Pullman, with the American Railway Union and its President Eugene V. Debs fully behind them. What followed was the greatest strike in American history. Meetings were held and strike committees formed to arbitrate the situation. ARU delegates decided to boycott Pullman cars on June 26th and the boycott spread throughout the nation. President Grover Cleveland called federal troops in to restore order and placed Debs under arrest. No violence occurred until Independence Day when mobs gathered and burned hundreds of cars. Railroad property damage was estimated at $340,000 and more than forty died in nationwide clashes. Chicago newspaper headlines read, "Big Riot in the Yards" and "World's Fair in Flames." Rioting was not under control until July 18 when workers began returning to Pullman.

Learn more about the 1894 strike


Labor & Race Relations

Labor Relations

Race Relations

General Nelson A. Miles,

Images of Pullman Labor History

Images of Pullman & African-Americans

Other Pullman-Related Sites

  • Historic Pullman Garden Club - An all-volunteer group that are the current stewards of many of the public green spaces in Pullman. (

  • Historic Pullman Foundation - The HPF is a non-profit organization whose mission is to "facilitate the preservation and restoration of original structures within the Town of Pullman and to promote public awareness of the significance of Pullman as one of the nation's first planned industrial communities, now a designated City of Chicago, State of Illinois and National landmark district." (
  • The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum is a 501(c)3 cultural institution. Its purpose is to honor, preserving present and interpreting the legacy of A. Philip Randolph, Pullman Porters, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the contributions made by African-Americans to America's labor movement. ((
  • Pullman Civic Organization - The PCO is a strong and vibrant Community Organization that has been in existence since 1960. (
  • Pullman National Monument - The official page of the Pullman National Park. (
  • South Suburban Genealogical & Historical Society - SSG&HS holds the Pullman Collection, consisting of personnel records from Pullman Car Works circa 1900-1949. There are approximately 200,000 individuals represented in the collection. (
  • The Industrial Heritage Archives of Chicago's Calumet Region is an online museum of images that commemorates and celebrates the historic industries and workers of the region, made possible by a Library Services and Technology Act grant administered by the Illinois State Library. (
  • Illinois Digital Archives (IDA) is a repository for the digital collections libraries and cultural institutions in the State of Illinois and the hosting service for the online images on this site. (