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Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey Hardcover – January 27, 2010
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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"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."(Lunch.com)
"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."(Choice)
"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)
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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For roughly a hundred years the railroads were a major part of the American economy and, as Kornweibel documents, a major player in the lives of African Americans from the days of slavery to the present, for both good and evil. It would be fair to say that no one can really claim a thorough understanding of the railroads in this country without considering their history with regard to African Americans, and that no one can fully grasp how African American history has been shaped in this country without looking at the role of the railroads. It also throws an unflattering light on the struggles between Capital and Unions - and how both found common ground in institutionalizing racism. Beyond that, one need be neither a railroader or African American to appreciate how this book contributes to understanding the full tapestry of America's history.
This is not ancient history. Kornweibel encountered resistance in doing his research from major railroads today, whose corporate ancestors employed slave labor in building lines that are still in use, and who do not want the legal or moral issues to be brought up at all. Kornweibel, with the use of pictures and stories, also documents how railroads, racism, and popular culture intersected. Yet, railroads also used to be large employers of African Americans, led to the creation of an African American middle class, and enabled the great migrations that still have effects on current events. It's a story that has not really been told - until now. There are many villains, and a very few heros.
With the assortment of excellent photos and other images, with the thorough documenting of the role of race in the various railroad skills and crafts, with the exploration of socio-cultural aspects following from this hitherto neglected subject, Kornweibel has done a remarkable job. Every chapter has numerous citations of much original material he uncovered. This work should become a standard academic reference and the inspiration for further exploration of this subject.
Another book that would supplement the revelations Kornweibel has produced is "Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism " by James W. Loewen. Just as Kornweibel has documented the intricacies of race and railroading, Loewen has uncovered the dirty secret of America - that there was a large-scale 'ethnic cleansing' style purge of African Americans from towns determined to be white only. It's a form of American Apartheid that is still largely unacknowledged - and still being practiced in some locales.
Before I read this book, my only exposure to and knowledge of the history of Afro-Americans working for the railroads was from two excellent books "Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson" and "Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class by Larry Tye", and altho these 2 worthy books have enriched my knowledge and understanding, Kornweiebel (who has also authored other, highly informative books on the Afro-American experience (WWI, and the later decades of the 20th Century) brings not only a scholarly touch to the subject matter but a highly impressive collection of photographs, facts and anecdotes.
As the author states at the beginning of this book "... a library search revealed that no author had assayed a full sweep of blacks' railroad experiences. But the idea struck a chord in me because it linked two personal passions: African American history"...."and railroads." This book then is the product not only of exceptional research, but is truly a labor of love -- and IMHO, the reader gets caught up in this atmosphere too.
Two pages of railroad line abbreviations are a necessary and comprehensive addition to the "user friendliness" of this book.
The photographs and ephemera (tickets, handbills, posters) which liberally grace this volume are all very well-captioned - some ephemera comes from the author's collection, and others from nation-wide collections - and I believe many of these have never before been seen by the public.
There are photos of train-hopping Afro-American women and young girls, photos of happy picnickers sitting on the railroad tracks (the author wonders why, but indicates that perhaps some of the men or women in the family worked on the railroads and thus were quite familiar with the train schedule on that particular line), crew gangs, porters and maids at work, plus bits and pieces of railroad (work crew and otherwise) songs, songs about the "True and Trembling Brakeman" (one of the most dangerous jobs on the railroad, other than actual track-crew work), and one whole chapter devoted to "Railroad Imagery in African American Music". Then too there are examples of racist postcards and even sheet music -- depicting the white mindset of the times as it related to Afro-Americans working or traveling (i.e. hopping the train) on the railroads.
The subject of Afro-American WOMEN working or traveling or hopping the train is very well covered, including the little-known facts (barely or not-at-all touched upon in any of the books I have read) regarding Afro-American women convicts or slaves working alongside, being housed with and sometimes even being chained to the men day and night, or Afro-American women working as maids, janitresses -- or as entrepreneurs making and selling food for the railroad passengers (before the era of dining cars or railroad restaurants which, once established were also, in many cases staffed by Afro-American women working alongside the whites but being paid much less).
And of course, there are interviews, anecdotes, related by the men and women who worked on these trains and had to put up with so much hostility. But, like so many of the photos reveal, these individuals had PRIDE in their work, even while acknowledging the negative aspects and treatment they had to endure.
I could go on and on-- but I leave it to the prospective reader to immerse her or himself into this book -- and although I am VERY impressed by this Uncorrected Proof that I hold in my hands, I cannot wait to view the final version -- this IS a great book, which I hope will become not only required reading for Afro-American Studies in colleges, and preffered reading for Book Clubs, but should also be in high school and community college libraries. I don't know if some of the information about the perils risked by the women convicts or the women who hopped the trains would be considered appropriate for grade shool children to read, but certainly the rest of the book is food for thought -- education and inspiration for anyone.
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