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Railroads in the African American Experience

, 568 pages

18 color illus., 181 halftones

January 2010



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Usually ships 2-3 business days after receipt of order.

Railroads in the African American Experience

A Photographic Journey

Winner, 2011 George W. and Constance M. Hilton Book Award, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, Inc.

2010 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

Honorable mention, Large Nonproft Publishers Illustrated Text, 2010 Washington Book Publishers Show
2011 George M. and Constance W. Hilton book award. Railroad History

This captivating book takes readers on an illustrated tour of the black railroad experience from slavery to Amtrak. With almost 200 images—many never before published—Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., examines the significant contributions of African Americans to the building, maintenance, operation, and profitability of the American railway system.

The history of American railroads, Kornweibel makes clear, cannot be separated from African American history. For over a century, railroading provided the most important industrial occupation for blacks. Brakemen, firemen, porters, chefs, mechanics, laborers—African American men and women have been essential to the daily operation and success of American railroads. The connections between railroads and African Americans extend well beyond employment. Civil rights protests beginning in the late 19th century challenged railroad segregation and job discrimination; the major waves of black migration to the North depended almost entirely on railroads; and railroad themes and imagery penetrated deep into black art, literature, drama, folklore, and music.

Kornweibel’s visual presentation of this rich history brings to life the hundreds of thousands of blacks who toiled for decades on America’s great rail systems. Each chapter of text focuses on a different occupation or railroading experience, some peculiar to blacks. Together, the evocative images and the complementary essays supply a comprehensive and powerful survey of the social, cultural, political, and economic influence of African Americans on railroads and of railroads on the black community.

Few today recall the importance of blacks to the American railroad industry, even though most black families have railroading ancestors. These stories of hardship and heroism, exploitation and endurance, anger and artistry illuminate a rich heritage and fascinating chapter in American history.

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.

"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."

" 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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"With telling detail, Kornweibel both informs and shocks readers."

"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."

"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."

"A powerful book."

"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."

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

"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."

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

"Once I started reading I put it down only when absolutely necessary... This is one time when I highly recommend you obtain a copy for yourslef. I do not feel you will be disapointed."

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