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African-Americans and the Railroad


From the very beginning of railroading in this country, African Americans played an integral role in the success, growth, and improvement of the industry. They labored in track gangs, fired steam locomotives, handled precious freight, and provided unparalleled service to passengers as porters, waiters, chefs, and redcaps. For many years, African Americans were limited in their opportunities, and encountered racism and exclusion from many areas of railroading. In spite of these obstacles, African-American workers, inventors, and labor leaders persevered. Many envisioned and launched new ideas to improve the safety and efficiency for those who rode and worked on the nation’s railroads. Today, African Americans continue to contribute to the success of the industry by serving in every facet of railroading. In this lesson plan, students will examine archival images and read and respond to questions about this important part of railroad history.


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