In 2015, Chicago received its first National Park Monument when President Obama granted the title to the Chicago neighborhood of Pullman. This neighborhood is historically significant because it was once the home of the Pullman Car Company, which created the first sleeping cars for trains. George Pullman founded both the Company and the Pullman neighborhood (originally, a town where he required his employees to live) in the late 19th century.
When I visited Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood in late 2019, I was told that the National Park Service would have an official visitor’s center at the Pullman National Monument by the summer of 2020. However, due to COVID-19, that still has not happened (as of June, 2021). Regardless, you can still visit the Historic Pullman Foundation’s headquarters at 11141 S. Cottage Grove, which the National Park Service is temporarily sharing with them. That is what I did. Admittance was free and included a tour of the Pullman artifacts in the building.
Although it is temporarily closed right now due to COVID-19, the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago also has another museum dedicated to the area’s history. Founded in 1995, the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum tells the story of the porters who worked on the Pullman trains. Since George Pullman created his Pullman Car Company soon after the American Civil War, he began recruiting newly-freed African American men from the South to work as porters and cooks on his sleeper trains. This led many African Americans to come to Chicago where they could find jobs that actually paid them for their labor. Unfortunately, these porters received a lower salary than what matched the job market for white men, so in 1925, an African American labor unionist named A. Philip Randolph helped create the first African American labor union. This labor union came to be called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and was an early step in the Civil Rights Movement.
The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum is named after the man who helped create the BSCP. Therefore, it documents his story as well as the stories of the porters whom he helped. Although it is not a large museum, it has interesting signs, photos, and artifacts to help you learn the history.
When I first arrived at the Pullman Porter Museum, the friendly man in charge, who was the son of the Museum’s founder, took me to the top floor where I watched a short documentary about the Pullman porters. The man in charge told me that the room where I watched the documentary used to be the apartment of a European immigrant family who worked for the Pullman Company. This made me wonder if the African American employees also lived in the general area, so I asked. Unfortunately, I learned that the Pullman neighborhood was segregated, so the African American employees had to live much further away from the downtown.
After I finished watching the documentary about the Pullman porters, I made my way downstairs to see the rest of the Museum. While I was there, a woman who used to work at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History was also visiting. She told me that she was working on opening up a bookstore in the area to help promote a love of reading among the neighborhood kids. I ultimately spent thirty minutes talking with her about how her family came from the South to Chicago, and what it was like for her growing up African American in Chicago. She was an amazing person and the highlight of my visit to the Pullman Porter Museum.
To learn more about Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History, click here to read my post about it.
To learn more about Washington D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, click here to read my post about it.
Sources and Further Reading
DuSable Museum of African American History. https://www.dusablemuseum.org/ (accessed June 19, 2021).
“General Information.” National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum. https://aprpullmanportermuseum.org/general-information/ (accessed June 19, 2021).
“Illinois: Pullman National Monument.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/places/pullman-national-monument.htm?utm_source=place&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=experience_more&utm_content=small (accessed June 19, 2021).
“Museum History.” National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum. https://aprpullmanportermuseum.org/about-museum/ (accessed June 19, 2021).
“National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/places/national-a-philip-randolph-pullman-porter-museum.htm (accessed June 19, 2021).
“Pullman Visitor Centers.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/pull/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm (accessed June 19, 2021).