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All Aboard! Railroading and Portland’s Black Community

January 10, 2013

By Kimberly Moreland

The Oregon Black Pioneers (OBP) in partnership with the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) and a community advisory committee presents an interactive, educational exhibit that focuses on the work and lives of African American railroaders, porters, and the community that grew up around Portland’s Union Station from the late 1800s to the 1940s. Railroad and hotel workers formed the nucleus of Portland’s small but thriving African American community that emerged prior to World War II. The new exhibit entitled, All Aboard! Railroading and Portland’s Black Community, opens on January 15 and runs until April 21, 2013 at the Oregon Historical Society.

Waiters posing in front of the Northern Pacific's Spokane-Portland-Seattle run in 1915. William H. Rutherford (far right) was recruited by the Portland Hotel from Columbia, South Carolina in 1897.

Waiters posing in front of the Northern Pacific’s Spokane-Portland-Seattle run in 1915. William H. Rutherford (far right) was recruited by the Portland Hotel from Columbia, South Carolina in 1897. (Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, bb004688)

Visitors will see uniforms and clothing worn by black railroad workers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and learn about the establishment of black-owned businesses, early black churches and other social institutions within the context of Oregon’s racial history. The exhibit will also feature a video entitled “Black Families and the Railroad,” and visitors will have a rare opportunity to read remnants of historical black newspapers that were established as early as 1896. Come take a picture with a Pullman Porter or in front of a platform backdrop of the Union Pacific’s Portland Rose, once herald as “A Triumph in Train Comfort.”

Black waiters serving in a Steamer Express dining car in 1915. (Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, bb002122)

A community advisory committee consisting of former railroad men, the children of former railroad men and local historians has enhanced the exhibit planning through their expertise and personal knowledge of railroad history. Funding for All Aboard! was provided by the National Railway Historical Society, Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Humanities, and Trust Management Services, LLC.

As an extension of the exhibit, the OBP will host a series of panel discussions that will highlight the history and life of African American railroaders. More information about the exhibit and accompanying panel discussions is available on the OHS website. Or visit the Oregon Black Pioneers website and/or contact Gwen Carr, OBP Research and Education Chair at blackpioneers@qwestoffice.net.

Kimberly Moreland is the Marketing and Communication Coordinator with Oregon Black Pioneers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sabrina permalink
    January 10, 2013 5:31 am

    That exhibit sounds very interesting. I’m definitely going to have to get up to Portland and see it!

    • January 10, 2013 7:57 am

      Hi Sabrina,

      Happy to hear you’ll check out the exhibit!

      Cara Kaser
      Oregon Heritage

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