Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class

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An engaging social history that reveals the critical role Pullman porters played in the struggle for African American civil rights

When George Pullman began recruiting Southern blacks as porters in his luxurious new sleeping cars, the former slaves suffering under Jim Crow laws found his offer of a steady job and worldly experience irresistible. They quickly signed up to serve as maid, waiter, concierge, nanny, and occasionally doctor and undertaker to cars full of white passengers, making the Pullman Company the largest employer of African American men in the country by the 1920s.

In the world of the Pullman sleeping car, where whites and blacks lived in close proximity, porters developed a unique culture marked by idiosyncratic language, railroad lore, and shared experience. They called difficult passengers "Mister Charlie"; exchanged stories about Daddy Jim, the legendary first Pullman porter; and learned to distinguish generous tippers such as Humphrey Bogart from skinflints like Babe Ruth. At the same time, they played important social, political, and economic roles, carrying jazz and blues to outlying areas, forming America's first black trade union, and acting as forerunners of the modern black middle class by virtue of their social position and income.

Drawing on extensive interviews with dozens of porters and their descendants, Larry Tye reconstructs the complicated world of the Pullman porter and the vital cultural, political, and economic roles they played as forerunners of the modern black middle class. Rising from the Rails provides a lively and enlightening look at this important social phenomenon.

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About the author

Larry Tye was a longtime journalist for the The Boston Globe, winning numerous awards for his work. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, he is the author of The Father of Spin and Home Lands. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Henry Holt and Company
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Published on
Jun 1, 2005
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9781466818750
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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“A multilayered, inspiring portrait of RFK . . . [the] most in-depth look at an extraordinary figure whose transformational story shaped America.”—Joe Scarborough, The Washington Post

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Soon to be a Hulu original series starring Chris Pine. Larry Tye appears on CNN’s American Dynasties: The Kennedys.

“We are in Larry Tye’s debt for bringing back to life the young presidential candidate who . . . almost half a century ago, instilled hope for the future in angry, fearful Americans.”—David Nasaw, The New York Times Book Review

Bare-knuckle operative, cynical White House insider, romantic visionary—Robert F. Kennedy was all of these things at one time or another, and each of these aspects of his personality emerges in the pages of this powerful and perceptive biography.

History remembers RFK as a racial healer, a tribune for the poor, and the last progressive knight of a bygone era of American politics. But Kennedy’s enshrinement in the liberal pantheon was actually the final stage of a journey that began with his service as counsel to the red-baiting senator Joseph McCarthy. In Bobby Kennedy, Larry Tye peels away layers of myth and misconception to capture the full arc of his subject’s life. Tye draws on unpublished memoirs, unreleased government files, and fifty-eight boxes of papers that had been under lock and key for forty years. He conducted hundreds of interviews with RFK intimates, many of whom have never spoken publicly, including Bobby’s widow, Ethel, and his sister, Jean. Tye’s determination to sift through the tangle of often contradictory opinions means that Bobby Kennedy will stand as the definitive biography about the most complex and controversial member of the Kennedy family.

Praise for Bobby Kennedy

“A compelling story of how idealism can be cultivated and liberalism learned . . . Tye does an exemplary job of capturing not just the chronology of Bobby’s life, but also the sense of him as a person.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

“Captures RFK’s rise and fall with straightforward prose bolstered by impressive research.”—USA Today

“[Tye] has a keen gift for narrative storytelling and an ability to depict his subject with almost novelistic emotional detail.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Nuanced and thorough . . . [RFK’s] vision echoes through the decades.”—The Economist
The idea for this book came to Larry Tye as he traveled overseas as a reporter for the Boston Globe. In each city he visited he was intrigued by a reawakening of practice and spirit of the long repressed Jewish community. And the more communities he saw close-up, the clearer it became to him that the Jewish world was being reshaped and revitalized in ways that were not reflected in what he was reading about the disappearing diaspora and the vanishing Jews of America.

The result is Home Lands, an narrative that tells the story of the new Jewish diaspora. Tye picked seven Jewish communities from Boston to Buenos Aires and Dusseldorf to Dnepropetrovsk deep in the Ukraine, and in each he zeroes in on a single family or congregation whose tale reflects the wider community's history and current situation. He met each community's leaders, talked with their scores of young people and old, and went with them to High Holiday services and Sabbath celebrations.

The first impression that emerges from his travels is each city's uniqueness. Far more striking than the differences, however, is the unity. Jews all over the world still have enough customs and rituals in common for outsiders to see them as part of the same people, and for them to define themselves that way. It is that new comfort level, that sense of finally feel comfortable in the lands where they are living, that is at the heart of this engrossing book. Readers' eyes will be opened to how Germany, just a generation after the genocide, has the world's fastest-growing Jewish population; how the Jews of Buenos Aires have carved a place for themselves in a land that also gave refuge to Nazi henchmen like Adolph Eichman, and how Ireland is home to a tight-knit Jewish community that, remarkably, has produced Jewish Lord Mayors in Belfast, Cork and, twice from the same family, in Dublin. In Boston, Tye tells the story of his own family, whose roots run deep in the city's Jewish community.

Home Lands is a book that is deeply personal even as it sheds light on the larger Jewish experience.

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