Rising from the Rails Book Review

By Isaac Aguirre
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Rising From The Rails (2004) by Larry Tye is a widely acclaimed historical outlet of an overlooked chapter of American history and a resurrected story of a class of individuals who defied the racial restraints chained to African-Americans in the mid-eighteenth century on the railways. Pullman porters were the reformers of labor opportunities for freemen in George Pullman’s tycoon of overnight sleeper cars in a nation of ever-growing innovative industries. A porter was the asset that fueled the evolution of transportation and overnight travel that sealed the locomotion of transportation on the rails. This work of literature captures the lore of the railways and the fashion of travel of middle-class Americans, but most inspirationally inducing; the triumph of Pullman porters in forging a middle class. 


A renaissance of locomotion in the mid-1800s sparred major corporations in staking claims to the railway industry. George M. Pullman, an entrepreneur in 1859 from Albion in upstate New York, would pioneer a revolution in ornate traveling and arise the most influential man in the Black community: the Pullman porter. The ex-slaves from cattle bondage were acquired as a honed tool to amp the progressing demands of overnight travel uncomparable to rivals globally. George M. Pullman saw the opportunity, and like many lucrative Americans of his time, set a price to it. He knew no limits to this capricious industry and let entrepreneurship pave the way. Larry Tye writes: “While George’s children denied a Lincoln link, over the years it became a mantra among porters that ‘Abe freed the slaves and Goerge Pullman hired ‘em,”’ Tye  continues expounding of Pullman’s racial-barrier-breaking employer tactics, “...It worked so well that by the early 1900s the Pullman Company was the largest employer of Negroes in America and probably the world.” The Pullman legacy is not the book’s scope but of the lives of porters who harnessed the operative opportunity and translated it into an esteemed trade and ultimately a platform for labor unions and liberty seekers. 


This book chronicles the testimonials of Pullman porters through the passage of time until the Pullman company dissolved in 1969. It is the porter legacy that has been concealed behind the curtains of American History until this proactive book hit the shelves that have delivered this enlightening story to all audiences. Tye chronicles the documentation of one porter who justified his motives to apply for this trade: “ Henry Pope Jr., a porter based in Nashville, never knew George but credited him with giving ex-slaves ‘not only employment and a way to support themselves and families, but also that which they needed most: namely, an opportunity to educate themselves by travel and by contact with more intelligent classes of travelers.’’’ The Civil Rights Movement can trace some of its salient heritage to Pullman porters in which A. Philip Randlaop’s legacy testified to prominent leadership in labor unions orbiting the bloomed Pullman industry. This is the story of figures who ride by ride extended the bar of racial equality and liberties and among the few in history whose service would entitle a nation to strive for civil liberties in every aspect from slavery to the rails to this century. This book is a gift of the historic importance of the Pullman porters and their tangible legacy and their scale of racial, skeptical, and stigmatized inequities in the 20th century. 

Rising From the Rails by Larry Tye does not only applaud the titans of the rails but relates this testimony to the countless leaders who forged an alliance with equality and have given this nation an antidote to eliminate the prevailing margins of workers of color in receiving unparallel benefits. It depicts the struggles, the lives, and legacies of porters in relaying a message to all Americans that in time and time again, opportunity does not discriminate by color.