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David Coolidge

Mass Action

Jottings from a Cross-Country Tour

(26 February 1945)1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 9, 26 February 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the train on my way to California, I read an advertisement of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the Chicago Defender. “America’s Leading Railroad” wants to hire some more Negroes. They are short of help. Do they want these Negroes for conductors? No. Do they want them for engineers, firemen, telegraphers, clerks, stewards? No. That’s not what the war’s being fought for. It’s being fought for something nobler, something more sublime: democracy. Negroes don’t enter that door. That entrance is marked “white only.”

No, the Pennsylvania Railroad wants more Negroes for their kitchens and as waiters in their dining cars. To entice Negroes to join up the Pennsylvania tells us about one Negro family in their employ: the Lamberts. This family has served the Pennsylvania “faithfully” for a total of 147 years – IN THE KITCHEN AND DINING CAR. But this is a real success story. For the Lamberts have been promoted. They advanced from dishwasher to cook and waiter during the course of their 147 years of “faithful service.” Only one of them became a waiter, however; the others have remained in the kitchen.

Only Menial Jobs

The Pennsylvania ad says: “The company likes the calibre of the family; (I’ll lay odds they do. The slave-owners liked their kitchen help also, so long as they stayed in the kitchen) the family likes the character of the company.” I don’t know about this, I haven’t talked to the Lamberts. But I’ll lay odds again that some of the Lamberts would like to get out of that kitchen.

Why haven’t some of the Lamberts or some other Negroes been promoted to dining car steward, to inspector, or put in charge of the commissary department? Just one reason: they are Negroes. Any job outside the kitchen or carrying a tray is a “white man’s job.” Senator Eastland of Mississippi says that this is what the war is being fought for and evidently the Pennsylvania Railroad agrees: to keep the Negroes in the kitchen.

That’s what the slave-owners thought and many Northerners, too. it took a few slave revolts and a civil war to change some people’s minds.

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Last updated: 17 April 2016