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EXHIBITIONS / Derailed / Diplomats of the Railway


Diplomats of the Railway

This dramatic monologue portrays a Porter Supervisor, the shining example of a Railway Porter. Performed by Daniel Jelani Ellis.

Porters were the first and often the last railway employees passengers encountered. They were the diplomats on the railway—the pleasant workers who ensured a safe and comfortable journey. Everything porters did for the passengers came with the traditional smiles that were “miles wide.” Porters were at the passenger’s beck and call all hours of the day and night. Passengers often received attention by calling the porters by a name they hated—George, or George’s Boy, in reference to George Pullman, the founder of Pullman Porters. This was in keeping with the diplomatic—and even subservient roles they performed.

Porters were outstanding members of their community. Most of all, porters were the members of the Black community who had regular work. Often, they were the sole breadwinner and provider not only for their immediate family but also for the extended family members in the community. As a group, the porters were among the best educated. University students from the West Indies were typically recruited by Canadian railways to supplement the rosters of active porters. Typically, Black men were hired only on the railways in North America. They worked only as porters—the lowest level positions of employment on the trains, initially with no hope for a promotion or change of job.

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