Pullman-Porter-Segregation-Blueprint-WMThis large (8.5″x3′,4.5″) Pullman Porter blueprint is from 1902. The  “Colored Passengers” area and “White Passengers” area are clearly notated).  Note the red stamp that says “THE PULLMAN COMPANY, GEN’L MNGR’S OFFICE.   MANUFACTURING DEPARTMENT.  OCT-8 1902.”

Prior to the 1860s, the concept of sleeping cars on railroads had not been widely developed. George Pullman pioneered sleeping accommodations on trains, and by the late 1860s, he was hiring only African-Americans to serve as porters. After the Civil War ended in 1865 Pullman knew that there was a large pool of former slaves who would be looking for work; he also had a very clear racial conception.

He was aware that most Americans, unlike the wealthy, didn’t have personal servants in their homes. Pullman also knew the wealthy were accustomed to being served by a liveried waiter or butler, but to staff the Pullman cars with “properly humble” workers in uniform was something the American middle class had never experienced. Hence, part of the appeal of traveling on sleeping cars was, in a sense, to have an upper class experience. From the very start, porters were featured in Pullman’s ads promoting his new sleeper service. Initially, they were one of the features that most clearly distinguished his carriages from those of competitors, but eventually nearly all would follow his lead, hiring African-Americans as porters, cooks, waiters and Red Caps (railway station porters).

While the pay was very low by the standards of the day, in an era of significant racial prejudice, being a Pullman porter was one of the best jobs available for African-American men. Thus, for black men, while this was an opportunity, at the same time it was also an experience of being stereotyped as the servant class and having to take a lot of abuse. Many passengers called every porter “George”, as if he were George Pullman’s “boy” (servant), a practice that was born in the South where slaves were named after their slavemasters.