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UIC News Tips
University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456, www.uic.edu/depts/paff

June 5, 2001 Contact: Bryant Payne (312) 355-2523; bpayne2@uic.edu


A new book by a University of Illinois at Chicago historian recounts the history of African-American railroad workers' battles against racism and job discrimination from the mid-19th century to the present.

In "Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality," Eric Arnesen, UIC professor of African-American studies and history, examines the civil rights and unionization of black railroaders and offers the first detailed exploration of African-American service and operating craft workers of the nation's railroads.

"The railroads expanded along with our country, until they became the very symbol of American industrial prowess," said Arnesen. "African-Americans have been part of the railroad since its inception. Today, they are largely remembered as Pullman porters and track-layers. Their real history is far richer."

Published by Harvard University Press, the book revisits the social history of black railroaders, from the traditions of black activism to the role trade unions played in the victimization of black railroad workers and their efforts to gain restitution.

In the book, Arnesen notes that, well before the rise of the modern civil rights movement, African-American railroad workers built their own traditions of civil-rights activism through labor associations that challenged discrimination and union exclusion through the state and federal courts.

"The history of American railroading has long captured the public's imagination," said Arnesen. "But rare are the treatments that acknowledge the role played by African-Americans in building and sustaining the nation's railroads. Those stories are central not only to the railroad industry's history but to the history of the struggle for civil rights in the United States as well."

Arnesen will discuss "Brotherhoods of Color" followed by a book signing on Saturday, June 16, beginning at 11 a.m., at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St.

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