A 2010 illustrated non-fiction book by Theodore Kornweibel Jr.< read all 3 reviews
Theodore Kornweibel Jr. has had a fascination with railroads all of this life. While studying for his PhD in African-American Studies at Yale in the late 1960's Korneweibel worked as a volunteer gandy dancer (track maintainance worker) on a small tourist railroad in eastern Connecticut. This experience sparked his lifelong interest in railroading. Kornweibel went on to become a distinguished professor of African-American Studies at San Diego State University and is the author of several books as well. In his spare time he volunteered at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in nearby Campo, CA. Knowing of his keen interest in railroading Kornweibel was asked to give a presentation on the subject of African-Americans and railroads back in 1993. While preparing for this talk Kornweibel discovered that precious little had been written on this topic. Thus the germ of the idea for this book. "Railroads In The African-American Experience: A Photographic Journey" is the fruition of years of painstaking research by the author. That this was a labor of love was quite apparent from the outset. This is definitely not as the title might suggest a typical coffee table book!
If you knew nothing about the contributions made by African-Americans to railroading in this country you will know it all by the time you finish this book. Trust me. Coming in at more than 500 pages there is an awful lot of text in this book as well as more than 200 rare and fascinating photographs. You will discover how before the Civil War the railroads secured slave labor to help build tracks and load and unload freight. When slavery was finally abolished tens of thousands African-Americans would find work on the railroads but their opportunities were extremely limited and blacks were usually forced to do the dirty and most dangerous jobs that no one else wanted. Later on, blacks would become dining car attendants and porters and many would eventually work their way up to more important positions. So why was railroading so important to the African-American experience in this country? The mobility and opportunities afforded by trains allowed many African-Americans to experience first hand life in big cities up North and out West. These folks quickly discovered that life could be better for them in these cities and thus began the major migration of African-Americans to cities like Chicago and New York.
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. While "Railroads in the African American Experience" is meticulously researched and quite well written it is probably more appropriate as a reference and research volume than as a cover-to-cover read. It took me several weeks to get through about 2/3 of this book before I finally gave up. Frankly, I was exhausted. Having said that I do not underestimate the enormous contribution that Theodore Kornweibel, Jr. has made here. Highly recommended!
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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 Americans of both sexes 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 system. 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...