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U.S. Legislators Introduce Bill Designating National Park Status for Historic Pullman Area

Deborah Bayliss | 1/29/2014, 4:25 p.m.
A legislative measure originally introduced by former U. S. Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr., is once again being presented by U.S. ...
The history behind the historic Pullman area begins with George M. Pullman in the 1880s in Chicago, who invented the overnight sleeping train car and hired black men and women to serve as porters and maids to the mostly white passengers who used the sleeping cars.

A legislative measure originally introduced by former U. S. Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr., is once again being presented by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), along with Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL), during the first session of the 113th Congress this week to establish a national park in Chicago’s Historic Pullman neighborhood.

“I’m honored to be here with my colleagues and supporters and thank all the businesses, the Pullman residents and organizations that have partnered together to restore and preserve this unique community,” said Sen. Durbin as he addressed the audience of stakeholders and elected officials.

(L-R) Lynn McClure, Midwest Regional Dir., National Parks Conservation Association; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL); and Congresswoman Kelly ( D-IL) held a press conference on Friday to announce legislation they plan to introduce to the 113th Congress, designating the Historic Pullman area with National Park Status.

(L-R) Lynn McClure, Midwest Regional Dir., National Parks Conservation Association; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL); and Congresswoman Kelly ( D-IL) held a press conference on Friday to announce legislation they plan to introduce to the 113th Congress, designating the Historic Pullman area with National Park Status.

The history behind the historic Pullman area begins with George M. Pullman in the 1880s in Chicago, who invented the overnight sleeping train car and hired black men and women to serve as porters and maids to the mostly white passengers who used the sleeping cars.

The Black porters--many of whom were ex-slaves--served diligently between the 1870s and the 1960s and as history tells, worked long hours for little pay without job security and spent half their wages, (a large portion from tips) on food, lodging and uniforms. Despite those conditions, they were considered an elite class of workers because the work was steady and because they traveled across the country.

In 1894 a Pullman labor strike resulted in the deaths of workers at the hands of the U.S. Military and the U.S. Marshals prompting congress to approve rush legislation that created a national Labor Day holiday with President Grover Cleveland signing it into law six days after the end of the strike.

Because of the poor working conditions, A. Phillip Randolph, a labor organizer and strong advocate for the rights of black workers, was called upon in the 1920s to form an independent union of sleeping car porters and maids.

Pullman fought the union, denouncing Randolph as a communist.

“The Pullman neighborhood has been the site for some major events in the history of the United States,” said Durbin. “The Pullman community went on to play an equally significant role in African American early civil rights through the legacy of the Pullman Porters as well as the development of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black labor union. The study released by the National Park Service, stated the Pullman district had undisputed national significance and would make an excellent candidate for an addition to the National Park system; we agree and that’s why I’m introducing a bill with Sen. Kirk and Cong. Kelly and my other colleagues, to designate the Pullman Historic District as a National Park of the United States of America, creating the Pullman National Historical Park.”

Dr. Lynn Hughes, Founder of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, 10406 S. Maryland Ave., said they appreciate the legislators’ tremendous first step because it would increase tourism that would benefit the entire community but particularly Pullmans North end.

“Most important (the legislation) it represents an un-paralleled opportunity to keep an important component of American history alive,” said Dr. Hughes. “However, taking an accurate and appropriate first step is crucial to the outcome of the blueprint that will be in place for years to come, one that will ultimately be interpreted by others long after we are all gone.  What we would like to see is the structuring of a bill that would create a model like the time-tested Smithsonian (Institution), where all of the significant stories as well as the architecture would be represented under one umbrella, but within designated entities--none duplicating what the others does.”