Unity, Justice and Protection: The Colored Trainmen of America's Struggle to End Jim Crow in the American Railroad Industry [and Elsewhere]



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The Colored Trainmen of America (CTA) actively challenged Jim Crow policies on the job and in the public sphere between the 1930s and 1950s. In response to lingering questions concerning the relationship between early black labor activism and civil rights protest, this study goes beyond both local lure and cursory research. This study examines the Colored Trainmen's major contributions to the advancement of African Americans. It also provides context for some of the organization's shortcomings in both realms. On the job the African American railroad workers belonging to the CTA fought valiantly to receive the same opportunities for professional growth and development as whites working in the operating trades of the railroad industry. In the public sphere, these men collectively protested second-class services and accommodations both on and off the clock.

Neither their agenda, the scope of their activities, nor their influence was limited to the railroad lines the members of the CTA operated within the Gulf Coast region. The CTA belonged to a progressive coalition comprised of four other powerful independent African American labor unions committed to unyielding labor activism and the toppling of Jim Crow. Together, they all worked to effectuate meaningful social change in partnership with national civil rights attorney Charles H. Houston. Houston's experience and direction, coupled with the CTA's dedicated membership and willingness to challenge authority, created considerable momentum in movements aimed at toppling racial inequality in the workplace and elsewhere.

Like most of their predecessors, the CTA's struggle for advancement fits within a continuum of successive challenges to economic exploitation and racial inequality. No single person or organization can take full credit for ending segregation or achieving equality. Many who remain nameless and faceless contributed and sacrificed. This study not only chronicles the contribution of a relatively unsung African American labor organization that waged war against Jim Crow on two different fronts, it also pays homage to a few more individuals who made a difference in the lives of an entire race of people during the course of a bitterly contested, never-ending struggle for racial equality in the United States of America during the twentieth century.