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Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey Hardcover – January 27, 2010

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Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey + Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (January 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801891620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801891625
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 8.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A major new work..., Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey, is about the entire African-American railroading experience—not just the porters, but the relatively unknown and unsung, too... destined to become a standard reference for years to come.

(Peter A. Hansen Railroad History)

Railroads in the African American Experience is worth a trip to your local independent book store... This inspirational masterpiece is about survival, overcoming adversity, and the triumph of the human spirit.

(Samuel Augustus Jennings RAIL Magazine)

A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters may not get the same play as, say, Rosa Parks, but they were no less important in the Civil Rights struggle. This handsome volume implicitly makes that point... Kornweibel writes with the meticulous sweep of a historian, and hundreds of amazing photographs and related ephemera help tell the story.

(John Lewis Baltimore Magazine)

Kornweibel’s prose and pictures bring to life the generations of southern blacks who built the railroads of the South—and sometimes pulled themselves out of poverty.

(Nancy R. Davison Internet Review of Books)

Theodore Kornweibel, Jr. covers so much ground in Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey that it is virtually impossible to touch upon it all here. And that just might be the point. At the end of the day this is a book that is an extremely important addition to the literature on both the history of African-Americans in this country and to the history of American railroads as well... meticulously researched and quite well written.


The historic relationship between U.S. railroads and African-Americans has never been so carefully or comprehensively documented as in this book... Kornweibel's scholarship is the foundation of this book, but it's also fair to describe it as a rich pictorial history.

(Kevin P. Keefe Trains)

With telling detail, Kornweibel both informs and shocks readers.

(James D. Porterfield Railfan and Railroad)

African-Americans and railroads have grown up with each other in an epic story, comprehensively documented in this beautiful new book... Here you'll find a wealth of rare glass-plate-negative prints, railroad publicity photos, family pictures, and the work of several noted photographers, interwoven with historical art and illustrations, some in color. Some of the art is shocking in its depiction of racism in its rawest form.

(Classic Trains)

Kornweibel presents a remarkable, compelling interpretation of how African Americans experienced the great American railway scene... Deserves an important place in college and university libraries that support programs in African American studies, American studies, and modern history... Rail fans in particular will find it both interesting and provoking.


The Kornweibel book is outstanding, describing and analyzing thoroughly and skillfully the black experience in American railroading... Kornweibel has also done an excellent job of collecting illustrations, adding much to his splendid narrative... The illustrations, however, are merely the icing on an already delicious cake.

(H. Roger Grant Register of the Kentucky Historical Society)

A powerful book.

(Allen W. Trelease North Carolina Historical Review)

Kornweibel sets the standard for exploring black railroad history, producing a book welcome to both the railroad enthusiast and the student of American race relations. This handsome volume will certainly inspire valuable historical research on the subject in the years to come.

(Guy Lancaster Southwestern Historical Quarterly)

Railroads in the African American Experience is a beautifully produced volume whose text and illustrations deserve to find a wide popular readership.

(Eric Arnesen Journal of Illinois History)

Kornweibel offers an impressive one-volume work on black life and the railroad. It will be a standard in the field for years to come.

(John M. Giggie Journal of Southern History)

Reading this book was a real eye opener and Theodore Kornweibel is to be commended for his exhaustive research and excellent presentation.

(David J. Mrozek The Michigan Railfan)

About the Author

Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., is a professor emeritus in African American history at San Diego State University and author of Investigate Everything: Federal Efforts to Compel Black Loyalty during World War I; Seeing Red: Federal Campaigns against Black Militancy, 1919–1925; and No Crystal Stair: Black Life and the Messenger , 1917–1928.

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Customer Reviews

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This book gives a detailed look at those contributions complete with photographs that tell the story well.
Frederick S. Goethel
In my favorite chapter of the book, Kornweibel examines the role of railroads in African American music, especially the railroad blues.
Robin Friedman
Coming in at more than 500 pages there is an awful lot of text in this book as well as more than 200 rare and fascinating photographs.
Paul Tognetti

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey N. Fritz VINE VOICE on October 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
That African Americans played a major role in the building and operating of US railroads is a greatly under appreciated fact. To some extent, there is an awareness that African Americans were the porters and the cooks on the railroads. But in reality, the functions that they performed were not only numerous--they were essential. And this is the point that repeatedly comes through in Theodore Kornweibel Jr.'s book, "Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey."

To illustrate his point, Kornweibel offers a series of engrossing photographs, many from his own personal collection, along with a text that is well written and complements the photos. Most striking is a photo taken on the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad in 1912. About this photo, Kornweibel comments, "If a single photograph could typify the African American railroad heritage, it might be this (one)...Aside from the engineer leaning out of the locomotive cab, every other individual (in the photo) is black, from the brakeman on the pilot to the fireman on the tender..."

His point is well taken. But this only touches the surface of this engaging book. In its chronologically arranged pages you will find eye-opening photos clearly documenting the extent that African Americans made the railroads possible and the price that they paid for doing so. The book also delves into the equal, but separate segregation practices by the railroads for both passengers and crew. It effectively brings out how African American Railroad workers worked alongside but in socially unequal relationships with their white co-workers.

Refreshingly, both men and woman's roles in the railroads are detailed--especially during World War II.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michelle R on November 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The books is chock-full of history and the pictures and artifacts are priceless. It's amazing that this book hasn't been written before, but this is an invaluable resource in truly understanding the history of this country and the history of railroads. A debt is owed to the people who literally built this country and made it possible to move supplies and people. To ignore this portion of history, because it's embarrassing, is to not understand who we are as a people today, and what we owe to those who came before us. If you're a history buff, a railroad buff, or are interested in African American history, I can't imagine a better book to add to your library! This is a weighty book, both in scope and literal size, that makes it a treat for someone who wants lots of depth.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shamontiel L. Vaughn on December 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Whenever the conversation about reparations starts and people say, "All of those people who suffered from segregation and racism due to slavery are dead," these are the types of books I like to use as references. This book details ridiculously hostile racism even so late as the 1950s and 1960s, and these folks are NOT all dead. This book was well-researched and fascinating to check out. I'm surprised at the amount of photos that were captured during these times, but I liked looking at those as well. Originally I wanted to check out this book because I heard so much about the Pullman Porters during my employment with "The Chicago Defender," and I knew this book would mention Abbott and the newspaper. Once I scrambled for that information, then I went through the rest of the book, but of course the Pullman Porters' section was still my favorite, especially the tales about how black people refused to answer to "boy" and "George." These are those books that are left out of American history but ideal for an American history course, especially an African-American history course. I highly recommend it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By iGertrude VINE VOICE on November 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
So often we discover hundreds of years later the cost others paid for life as we know it. It's like turning a cube and looking at ideas from another side to see a whole new story emerge. Remember discovering the effect Columbus had on the Indians when Europe pounced on the New World? Why did we not understand what happened at Port Chicago?

Like so many industries of the nineteenth century railroads depended on backbreaking labor from people who were slaves; in these instances, not slaves, but hired slaves whose associated costs were much lower to the railroad lines. Enslaved people were mostly responsible for constructing 8,784 miles of railroad in the South. But this continued far longer than the building of the railroads. The railroads' success and continued development depended on cheap labor of people who were treated abhorrently. This continued through the use of slaves to maintain the rails, to act as firemen, brakemen, and switchmen, easily the most dangerous jobs on the railroad. When these slaves traveled on the trains, they traveled not in a steel train but in wooden train cars, squeezed between the engine and the passenger compartments. These cars were far more likely to fail in train accidents, of which there were many. Later coaches were partitioned to adhere to the Jim Crow laws.

The chapters chronologically describe some of the roles African Americans filled in the railroad - from firemen, janitors, redcaps, sleeping car porters, cooks, and later, brakemen and passenger train conductors.

Photographs are used in two ways. This book is lavishly illustrated and depicts an extensive research in obtaining fairly obscure railroad museums including from newspapers, magazines, and museums.
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