A Proud Preservation: The Pullman Porters Role in Creating Chicago’s First National Park


By Viva Yeboah, Outdoor Afro Chicago

“Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted. Freedom and justice must be struggled for by the oppressed of all lands and races, and the struggle must be continuous, for freedom is never a final act, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political, and religious relationships.” — A. Philip Randolph, Founding President of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Civil Rights Activist

A Phillip Randolph

On February 19th, President Obama signed a proclamation designating three new sites: Chicago Pullman District, Honouliuli Internment Camp and Colorado Browns Canyon as national parks and monuments. For Outdoor Afro and especially Outdoor Afro Chicago this is a big celebration!

Obama signs Pullman

For years community leaders have pushed to make Pullman a national park, achieving Chicago Landmark District and National Historic Landmark designations along the way. Preserving Pullman’s dynamic history ensures the legacy is passed to future generations.

The Pullman neighborhood was the first industrial town in the US and has a powerful history of labor movements. In the late 1800s, newly freed African-Americans migrated to Chicago for job opportunities with the Pullman Rail Car Company as porters, servants and maids. This employment stimulated the development of  Chicago’s vibrate African-American middle class community. Though their jobs were glamorized, employees were mistreated, paid low wages and worked long hours. Understanding the need to protect their rights, one of the first African-American labor unions, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was formed. In 1937, the union won a historic labor agreement, ensuring increase wages and gained charter from the American Federation of Labor.

sleeping-car-porters

Decades later, Pullman is still a neighborhood with residents committed to community. Throughout the county, investments are being made into outdoor recreation, conservation and stewardship; from the growth in urban farming, the Millennium plan by Forest Preserve of Cook County, to the investments in restoration and stewardship projects in the Calumet region. The Pullman District becoming a national park is now the highlight of many things currently taking place in Chicago. National monument status assists in protecting areas and growth in local economies. Chicago philanthropists raised close to $8 million in supporting community led efforts to make Pullman District a national monument. With these investments, communities will hope to see employment opportunities, increase in tourism, growth in local businesses and property value increases.

porter museum

National parks and monuments provide the full circle experience where we connect to our history, nature and each other. What has fascinated me are the stories of migration and resistance. I have lived in Chicago for several years. I grew up in metro Atlanta and my parents are Ghanaian. Listening and reading migration stories gives light to the historical movement of humans. We move for better opportunities, safety, desire to redefine oneself, growth, resources and much more. The Pullman District provides many of these stories.Outdoor Afro Chicago is looking forward to sharing the vast stories and experiences of the Pullman District through community rides, bird watching, neighborhood tours and other activities.

Visit National Pullman Porter museum, http://www.aphiliprandolphmuseum.com, and Pullman Historical society, pullmanil.org for more information. Also read a great interview with Sherry Williams of Bronzeville Historical Society on their efforts of preserving Pullman district black history, goo.gl/r5MpkC.

Join Outdoor Afro Chicago meetup for upcoming events: meetup.com/OutdoorAfroChicago


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