Skip to main content

tv   Eric K. Washington Boss of the Grips  CSPAN  April 22, 2020 4:01pm-5:35pm EDT

4:01 pm
members of congress are in their district due to the pandemic. tonight, the digital world. first michael strain discussing how the future of success is bright in his book the american dream is notdead . then timothy carney on his book alienated america. looking how the american dream is less attainable. later nicholas kristof and sheryl wu done on issues facing the working class in america. enjoyabletv now and over the weekend on c-span2 . >> good evening and welcome. you can go ahead and clap, it's okay. welcome to the schomburg center for research and black culture where we are dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of global black experiences my name is novella ford, director for public programs and exhibitions. thank you for joining us for this conversation with eric k
4:02 pm
washington who is author of tonight's book , boss of the grips, the life of james h williams and the red caps of grand central terminal. this is part of an ongoing series of programs posted in conjunction with our series the ballad of harlem. if you've not had a chance to look at the exhibition it will be up through the end of december. there are all these things inside the exhibition that i think you will hear about tonight and also it might feed your own historical knowledge about how the ballot for harlem examines several strands of black place making in the 20th century offering viewsof presidents and institutions dedicated to education , politicalengagements , cultural affirmation and creativity. the exhibition as i was mentioning earlier highlights includes the brotherhood of sleeping car porters which was the first union of black workers particularly plowman porters and you'll also find
4:03 pm
selections from ruby dee and aussie davises collection which we recentlyacquired . also items from and petrie's archives and so much more. we have two more ballot for harlem conversations coming up you should save thedate . november 13 we really having a conversation about sculptor augustus savage with curator jeffrey and hayes nima sandy. that event is on november 13 at 6:30. the other event is taking place in december and it's a conversation about making community. are going to be talking about barbershops and how they are being forced in the black community and we are hoping that program in partnership with and presentation of the algerian playwrights who leaves a rich tapestry of unfiltered stories about father-son relationships and black masculinity sent to an afro beat and score. there's so much more happening here at the schomburg center so please pick up one of our brochures . it has a beautiful vintage photo of toni morrison on the
4:04 pm
cover. visit our website at schomburg and register for all our events . this time take a moment to silence your cell phone introduced an ice author and also let me remind you wewill have a book signing following the conversation . the eric k washington is a new york city-based tindependent historian and author . is the owner of i in a past which endeavors to reconnect with history of present landscapes through articles, talks and tours particularly on unsung areas of upper manhattan. exhibition scripts have included the national civil rights museum, new york's library at city college. his interpretive signage in west harlem here's part which runs the municipal art society's masterworks award celebrates the waterfront location of his birth, manhattanville.
4:05 pm
whole heart of west harlem. as book is a biography, just published by liz wright. a division of ww norton's that grew out of the research fellowships at columbia university in the scholars program, today's leon levi center for biography and a residency at the ms ah dorm are house. the new book is also the grips, the life of james h williams and the red caps of grand central terminal and it reintroduces a once influential labor figure who lives between 1878 and 1948. and the secular harlem based black workforce he had america's most honest railroad station whose individuals often infused the lifeblood of the new negro movement and the story harlem renaissance of the 1920s we will first hear of it from eric and then he and i will sit down to have a conversation so please welcome eric washington for the podium. >>. >> novella. thank you schomburg center
4:06 pm
for being the stewards of such a incredible collection that was invaluable to my research on this book . i'm going to plunge right in and then we will talk. so on the evening of september 14, 1909, james h williams summoned a throng of redcap stations attendance from grand central to reformers call on west 53rd street and despite the growing exodus harlem, this being today's hells kitchen was still a hub of black life . williams had only recently been promoted to supervisor. this official category name attendance was rarely used by travelers. and even the men usually refer to themselves either conspicuous headwear. red caps. but this evening assembly seemed more formal. williams had summoned themto this church to organize the
4:07 pm
attendance beneficial association of grand central terminal . at grand centralitself , a number of occupational and emotional distress is an fueled this particular gathering of red caps work in and around multicultural railroad service while construction crews built up a new terminal complex around the old us dacian accident had claimed one of williams is meant months before , more personally is invalid baby daughter succumbed in hospital a week later area such emergencies may red caps acutely self-aware. they were uninsured, on salary and dependent on case. and this predicament prompted williams first major demonstration of his new influential position . since our evening williams ocalled actions for his porters to organize their own benevolent association composed exclusively of grand central employees to aid members in case of thickness, injury or death.
4:08 pm
as officers of the new mutual aid society the men chief williams as president and his samuel l jesse battle then studying for the spatient, thrusting into history as sergeant-at-arms . this 1909 incident take a picture to me of the amazing personal and grassroots base labor force james williams built up for grand central station porters really was sitting from the collective bargaining based organization the brotherhood of sleeping car which founded in 1925 which in turn would inspire the only national union movement iand 37. in the decade longspan of williams tenure , he glanced the impressivebreadth of the redcap impact on grand central and greater harlem . i think the best way to fully introduce williams is a start. by reading something from the introduction .
4:09 pm
>> new york city grandcentral terminal has been celebrated tour de force . it's captivated the traveling public for more than acentury . open in february 12th, 1913 the world's largest railroad station was built by the american firms reading it again and warren and whitmore showcases a host of such artistic talents as to six, thompson was altar of minerva polytechnic five crowns the buildings entry and charles basing whose painted feeling transports a mind wandering traveler to the blue heavens area many regarded it as the finest example of art in civic planning in new york. once an architectural confection and a masterwork ofinnovative design and engineering . the sublime list of grand central terminal marble concourses, it's cascading ramps and stairs and document shadows utilize its once essential operating model.
4:10 pm
the servitude of african-american workers. the servitude in this case was rooted in the american tradition of racial l explication. northerners might have comfortably regarded their territory as a historically and let refuge from the harsh segregation practices of the staff or of a bygone era area however 20th-century new york city evidence of its own jim crow policies , notably as grand central. stations on system what a similar poor black men in red caps and recorders. timesnumbered in the several hundred . the nature of a porters work, the noted writer eating white observed in the new yorker can to put them in a class of the beast of burden and indeed throughout themuslim concourse , the porters often backbreaking and demeaning labor was integral to the station's functional efficiency and to its glamorous ambulance.
4:11 pm
was perhaps inevitable grand central red hot water system became a model for numerous railroad stations across the nation. made categorically identifiable both by their apparel and bytheir complexion , black workforce at grandcentral and body america's color line . laws, bylaws, amendments and social attitudes that close worst relax. in the united states, the color line was a deep-seated contrivance that had festered for generations. it was a family of contradictions, at times one of its prohibitions only intuitively . yet they were as probable as a growth a. it could be woven into the collective subconscious by social mores.for my deliberate area of lacks also found ways to circumvent and mitigate impasses created when whites erected the color line. they bent and reconfigured it into opportunities and positions of leverage. was the case at grand central where the carlisle color line
4:12 pm
black workers the means proverbially seeking to makea utway out of no way . in the contract having flourished as one of the most iconic service occupations of f the last century. grand central depot 95 with the was what sat had become exclusively black by 1905. the source of pride of the job was started by an old invariably associated with african-american men . whereas whites shunned the workers to low in fat, black recognize it as a rare and provisions one option in an era of rigid racial barriers. at grand central american college students on the right as a means to pay their way through school . the man who prayed this opportunity for securing a foothold for his professional and social advancements was james williams. individual whose history at grand central terminal is the urban legend and mythology of the landmarkwheel today .
4:13 pm
more to formally enslaved african-american parents in 1838 , williams broke the color line at grand central's likeredcap attendance in 1903 . shawn williams higher, the former public reminder that attendance deny border security but rather were on hand to assist station passengers again taking on a new definition. in 1909 williams served as the 40 quarter or of grand central terminal first and most notable african-american officer in maine in position until his death in 1948. in this capacity, the mia unique counter between black and ndwhite americans area is influential 45 year tenure a monumental railroad station not only a gateway to america's greatest city but just as much a gateway to the nations radius african-american neighborhood , harlem. for nearly half a century chief williams supervised a staff of men relegated by
4:14 pm
didn't break race to the lowest status of the nation's workforce though their role was integral to the railroad system. like the railroad rolling kings s or pullman porters who were also african-american the station bound red caps were crucial to this with what precision of the terminal and woven into the beguiling experience of early 20th centuryrailroad track . williams life coincided with key period and the evolving social world of wafrican-americans living in an ever-changing metropolis of new york city. his experiences offer a window on post-civil war america and the optimism of the reconstruction area. we follow williams as a race man. he was an unassuming agent of the early 20th century ideological cause of racial uplift which strove to quell white prejudice through black self-improvement in education, business, labor, civic interest and the arts in the 1920s would fuel the new negro movements and
4:15 pm
harlem renaissance and we follow him two world wars . trit was williams who ingeniously transformed and outwardly self-effacing job into a coveted employment opportunity. the and karen, purpose permanent hormonelike as the new york herald tribune would observe williams chiefdom offer ushered scores of promising but this silly strap young black college on their way to a motor board by working under a redcap at luggage porters. many were great n, a prime example of the countless social networks platform for themselves when they were categorically barred as persona non grata from o langford releases and other white institutions. credentials notwithstanding , these black greeks as well as the unschooled brothers of the race worked as fun salary laborers. they were ubiquitous throughout the terminals opulence concourses and he trunks and releases topped
4:16 pm
with sandals and telling the golf clubs and half boxes of bustling travelers they depended onfor six . while the story is obviously about race and labor w, it is also overwhelmingly about personal industry, resourcefulness and philanthropy. over the course of his life america royals under some of the most seismic shifts in its history. at the new york central employee , the statesman, movie stars, silently, high clergy and other notables to and from trains marginal visibility. but he stood up conspicuously among african-americans as the teeth. who created a platform to employ black men to sustain black students and to showcase the race in the most admirable life. in this capacity as the loss of the greatest, grips the term applied to both baggage and handlers he was part of the central nervous system of the harlem renaissance. the story harlem's cultural
4:17 pm
literary and artistic expression. it was also renaissance vibrant business and industry as race enterprises as well as spirited african-american labor civic movement in which chief williams was noted . though they admired him as an forthright advocate, williams genuinely touched others to. the day after he died, the journalist earl brown had to go to chicago so headed down to grand central for a ticket on the grand central limited. 40 new york to chicago trade with the new york central advertised as the most famous train in the world anticipated the site of keith williams at the gate. on the main concourse, brown landed into some old-time friends. seasoned grits he knew from when he had redcap for a summer away from school. the majority didn't know about williams death and did not miss a step but brown and maybe some of the caps off a
4:18 pm
couple of strangers. two old white passengers, friends of the chief said they had read about hisdeath in the morning paper . they were flying. so i wondered who was this black man was passing elicited grief among both friends and strangers and retracing the life of james williams adopted a fascinating task, the unobtrusive nature of his job rather ephemeral not invisible. though he was not a man of letters in the letters and observations of others and in the product of his time he takes a, fleshes out and the breeze. [applause] >> .so that was just the introduction and you all already know what you have to do at the end of this program area two points. one, i'll be calling chief williams chief williams both as an automatic and also that
4:19 pm
was the title carry and also i wanted to take a moment to give a special shout thanks to margaret edwards who is the great granddaughter of williams who was here today. [applause] so thank you for joining us so very much. so part of your bio as well as what i found in the book that you have an amazing job of eliminating the existence of everyday people. impact of their work on society. you say in intro that it's a fascinating task so i'm curious how do you unearth and develop this rich composition as a man she williams in the absence of a formalarchive ? >> in many ways, sometimes the easy part is finding their names binding and
4:20 pm
repeated in the articles or ncitations in somebody else's documentor whatever . sometimes it'sjust a name . on the list of people who are attending a gathering, particularly and i'm one of those people who like i just like the names i wonder who that person was see if there's somebody or anybody. and more often than not, when you're searching for someone or something, you don't necessarily find what you're looking for rightaway but you else that is g your attention .though in that way i think there are different strategies and sort of non-strategies for digging up and finding people who are just kind of everyday people . >> and the black press was about that. possibly listing people's names, telling the stories that maybe you should know . >> one of the things that was great was having access to a database and looking through a lot of, mainstream press
4:21 pm
also black press particularly when there was a gathering for anything. there seem to be this sort of a single thing where everybody just kind of was a necessarily participate but these were people who were there and at first you might feel like why are we mentioning them then it's like maybe is like no one else is going to mention though i was grateful because i can go back to stories that i've read over again . particularly for the huge, there were everybody. and go back and see now that i've become familiar with these other names. i wonder if they were at reading i wondered about. so yes, that was very useful area having a lot of these names to clinical core and some i have to find other ways. of finding those people were really. >> so she williams parents were part of the wave of migration to new york during reconstruction. the population here in new york 12/19,000 80 possibly
4:22 pm
grits is not only a biography i think of chief williams also offers a map of black new york during the late 1800s and 1940s could you talk a little bitabout the black community that helped develop chief williams ? >> 'sparents, they were both enslaved in virginia at the same county area i haven't come across any evidence that they knewceone another there . it seems that they probably met in new york treatments back record which were very useful, there were two , i use one in book one from 1872 where he's in virginia and it was said that he was a runaway. from slavery. and i guess after the war, he had family and went back to virginia and he was a hotel where in norwalk virginia? boreholeconnecticut or the other way around . okay. so in virginia, i always mix
4:23 pm
is. and then the next year. you're working at this posh hotel in new york. but it gives us an address and he's living a very nonhostile address. one of the many little africans in what's today's greenwich village. it was greenwich village sent you but it was one of those areas of the village when thompson street that was the subject of jacob reese he investigations and one of the really troubled areas so it was clear that it was an interesting dichotomy where he apparently had just gotten erto new york. that's regulated major connections or whatever is working at this really address on 29th street and broadway swhich is the hotel and theater center of the city at the time before it moved up to the times square area. and in 1873, he still appears
4:24 pm
to be just kind of getting established there but he's in this sort of wonderful surrounding a lot of people who like themselves, from south, come to the big cities to new york. and then i think he meets his wife lucy in new york and they those are james williams parents and i started off counting about them first because i thought it was important to get an idea of williams routine. he is a native new yorker born on 15th street. and what's now' chelsea. but then it was part of the neighborhood that was known as the tenderloin and was one of the high crime but maybe fun neighborhoods. it was known for a lot of drugs. a red light district and everything. and everything that comes with that .
4:25 pm
>> at that time so working street, and about 14 three was considered a town. >> the turn of the last century around 1900, references to uptown are usually like about working which gives you an idea of how the city was moving upwards. not to say that people didn't live far away, but the centers of the city, the businesses and commercial enterprises, hotels and things like that were all sort of, you see them migrating and this was either a way to go because most people were so from being an sauce further downtown. >> and the tenderloin also included elsewhere because. >> to a degree, the tenderloin is one of those amorphous communities is more or less like hells kitchen would have been part of that northern end of it. my 15th street where james williams was born. so the southern and where it
4:26 pm
is sort of west going towards the river or the railroad. the tracks. and then east, it kind of dissolved and becomes a bit nicer around the broadway area which is commercial. one of the things interesting about williams as he got to me, as he came into his adulthood and he's working on this on 28th street, is working in posterior on broadway with this major floris, charles worley was one of the most famous florets of the golden age but only a couple blocksaway is a black belt as it's called . and it's svery walkable within 10 minutes but there's certainly a contrast in feeling. >> talk more about particular floors because i feel like the work that she williams was doing at that time really groomed himfor the work he in
4:27 pm
would be doing at grand central station . >> charles worley is another fascinating figure. he was one of the principal florists of the gilded age, of the elite of new york. and one of the, it's not really clear when it began certainly around these the turn of the last century around 1900 and williams is working as a florists messenger. these known or hiring especially african-americans. which is very convenient because jobs are hard to get. and he's kind of a big open rough guy. it doesn't look like he could be in the flower business. have a look like somebody who would kill flower just by looking at them. and he was a sports manager. particularly into boxing.
4:28 pm
but he was an artist at what he did area and everybody like him. i mean, there were other major florists as well this was one of the things that tthe african-american community in new york always considered him a friend and he would caterevents , not only for the elite but for as when harlan started taking hold in the early years, he would cater those events as well but decorating them with he was known for their play and getting a square deal. and a lot of people like williams and even langston hughes work forhim. he fired langston hughes . it's like this was in the later years, he died the next year actually but it wasn't connected. and it wasn't langston's fault.
4:29 pm
but he wasn't really one of the few people who, he was very influential.he had a lot of pull and it's probably he who made the introductions to the administrators at grand central to get james williams this job which he integrated the forces area wesley williams when he became manhattan's first black fireman credits worley specifically as having been the most important letter under both of those letters were written by the likes of teddy roosevelt as well wesley really doted upon him appreciatively about that recommendation . so james williams was with worley time just before going to grand central. this incredible thing where
4:30 pm
he owned property and he bought this really remote piece of property, really way uptown went on42nd street . where across broadway and seventh avenue, it's a little triangle . had a hotel there that was the hotel downtown and he sold that property to the new york times. and in 1902. and the times, it became times square and one of the deals was in the lease, his name had to appear on the building and it remained there for many years. the buildings all been stripped away now . but williams was witness to all of that. worley also was in charge of the declarations at madison square garden, it was in a different location so when prince henry of prussia visited new york in 1902, there was one of the biggest events for american, making a
4:31 pm
tour of several american cities and comes to new york. everyone who had even the slightest extraction of german heritage ripped out the lederhosen or whatever they had and as it turned out , prince henry was really enthralled by african negro spirituals as they were called in because the jubilee singers when they first toured europe was in 1871. they sang at his house, the royal house and he was a boy then and he had never gotten over it so he became his real big advocate for black culture and wanting to know more and worley was in charge of the declaration but he was also one of those people who was very sort of eoabout fairplay so he didn't have to do the declaration himself though he had his staff do it which meant that he would put one of williams coworkers in
4:32 pm
charge and the prince was so impressed that he asked him to come back to europe with him and decorate his stateroom and the palace and sent him back with a diamond watch and everything and i think these kinds of things really affected williams, james williamscoming-of-age . meeting these people, it was like an apprenticeship where you're learning to deal with people and you're learning what people want, what their tastes are and much of this he's willing to glean just by reading the letter and seeing what people are ordering . what occasions they're getting flowers for and what kinds of flowers so all of these are informing who he is to become so that when he gets this position at grand central, he's not just toting banks, he's also forming a government. >> you get that feeling about him throughout the book area that you talk about him not being sort of a talker.
4:33 pm
or a statuesque, that there was something about him recommended a presence no matter who he was in conversation with work working with you one of the resources we have here at the center of course is our time but we also have digital exhibitions and we have one at all black newyorkers . and in one of the sections called migrations in new neighborhood from 1866 to 1915 and i'm going to read a portion of that must set up his next question. it says that important that was the black migration was dwarfed by the immigration of europeans from ireland, germany and italy in new york irish and italian immigrants displaced numerous african-americans as domestics , laborers and skill positions which we see ibetween 1890 and 1910 during the largest increase in the black population at that particular time so one increase with 24 percent, the
4:34 pm
next year it was 66 percent for the next through the next iteration was 66 percent so that's what i'm talking about in terms of increased black population at that time. he goes on to say aggregation and determination game or matters. black new yorkers found themselves in a city continued to bar them from most skilled jobs segregated and imparted for neighborhoods and forbidden entry to public spaces. they were denied work at longshoremen, street cleaners , baggage handlers, siemens carriers, garment workers and garment workers, african-americans however fought back. in the telling of the story of red caps keep williams received the unveiling of the newly built grand central station but we also learning a lot about jim crow. out of these two moments influence james h williams and the position that he oneventually took quite a while a lot of this traditionally service positions lacks have
4:35 pm
a hold on, they were relegated to these positions. toward the end ofthe 19th century therestarting to lose a lot of these physicians . because it always , this is one of the old american story. now that there are other whites coming in who are unrooted and need work, a lot of people are just feeling more comfortable hiring them. one of the things that really get that is this right in 1900, westside ryan for the tenderloin riots which were so horrific on a number of levels but on one particular, it wasn't just that mobs of whites were snatching innocent people out of their homes, out of their businesses , off the streets but that they were abetted by the policeofficers and this came into the courts . it's catalyzed a lot of the black community but whites as well in protests. and the news was carried across the country people were so ashamed and disgusted
4:36 pm
by this moment. that sort of aided or saved a lot of reformers to dark offering jobs. so now these were still bottom of the wrong jobs but one of the main proponents of the loudest voices of protest against the actions of the police and the justice system that they felt were whitewashing what had happened was this reverends wh brooks of st. mark's methodist church and one of the things that he said was in the papers and i imagine that would be in either was there at that meeting or he would have read this himself were heard was that thwe may not get the jobs we want but let's get, let's take the job that wecan get . the implication being will work with this and see what
4:37 pm
happens. williams did just that. perhaps thiswas , if worley was the one who made the recommendation as he would not have been hired at grand central without the highest recommendation from whoever came from. that just wouldn't have happened . so as he gets in, and the job immediately shifts to being all black, and i don't , there was no protests that i came across which was often the case when blacks enter the workplace that was predominantly white. so i get the impression that it was a plan change area so there was kind of match up with the: porters were already all black. but it gives james this opportunity to really turn this into something else. and the strategy, part of the strategy outlined porters to several years later will organize aunion .
4:38 pm
the strategy for organized labor for him i think is the organization is gettingthe job. getting the work . and we will own and do something and then the other strategy was i think establishing visibility . and he does that in a number of ways over the decades by organizing and orchestra among a lot of the red caps because a lot of them are musical . they end up recording and playing and representing the naacp on tour organizinga baseball team . he does all these things that makes him not only themselves but figures after african-americans but there carrying the moniker of grand central so they are representing grand central terminal as well anyone growing up in and around new york in the first half of the 20th century grand central and you'retraveling by train , they're not just thought of this other ancillary parts.
4:39 pm
this is part of how you envision travel. there part of thaticonography . >> this is also a very special set of people grand central wanted to put out there because they realized that the women needed support when getting their train. they needed someone to help them with their bags so they thought it would also make them standout . on the other side of that is that this is a fairly well-kept position so i remember reading in the book for instance samuel battle talks about making $300 a month whereas on average people might have made $32 a month so we're talking about a lot of money at that particular time so this idea and they called one area the grand central station sugar hill. >> the venerable avenue taxi entrance which is a testament to how connected it was to harlem. it was the boots were all
4:40 pm
there. and that was the most lucrative station to be working at grand central though it represented what should sugar hill represented the harlem. it was interesting because when they started out was an all, or white workers and most were bilingual and they spoke french, german, spanish , danish. it was kind of a novel idea. there were very concerned about single women travelers being assaulted by, they were called vocal man, that's not a term i know anymore but what means. and it was all very noble but it was also interesting because in all of the advertisements, they reminded the public the traveling public notetaking was necessary. these men are all on staff and i think it's hard in our generation appreciate, most of us are used visiting, we take it for granted the writ
4:41 pm
it's just something we do. this was really controversial at the end of the 19th century. a lot of people said is like repulsive. and i think by switching the staff from all white to all black, i think the culture where the wife caps represented sort of gallantry and i mean, like the knight in shining armor you don't get a knife but people were used blacks and i think that kind of dissolved it. there was an incident in 1905 when the glass on staff were still fairly fresh though there were always making a lot of money. they really had to hustle and turn on the charm. and one of the superintendents was outraged. it sounded like from the
4:42 pm
accounts and he was not so outraged that they were taking hits but that they were so successful at it. so like battle notes that he was able to save three or $400 a month. it's like 4, how did you do that mark i resented because it was likely more than that supervisor was making also. >> so we are situated right now at the intersection of 35th street and lenox avenue, also known as malcom x boulevard and name that you've already mentioned was wesley williams and jay. can you tell us about each of those men, also the relationship. >> so wesley williams, i'll start with battle. the battle was assistant chief. attendance to under james williams. and in 1909 he started studying for the exam to become a police officer. which he succeeded in doing
4:43 pm
in 1911. he became new york city's first black police officer so it was a red while he was doing this and this was obviously groundbreaking area he was also i think something of a mentor wesley who was much younger. not enough also to be his own son and williams and battle were very close, they were both brothers in manhattan lodge number 45 which was the first so-called colored else in manhattan. and they were often in charge of helping organize a lot of the big functions for the elks club. i guess booking max and collecting the funds and what have you. so by the time that, and i guess seven or eight years have passed and there is another lack ireland from queens, john woodson and
4:44 pm
manhattan doesn't have one and the time is really right for this. wesley williams, chief williams son was coming of age and he's a superman. and there is a picture i have in the book and you can see that he's stunning. i don't remember the phrase but hrhe was one of those people who just kind of like you're wondering why hedidn't get snatched up by hollywood or something like that . he did exhibitions, weightlifting. he was an all-around athlete like carl rosen was so as this discussion was taking place, it was kind of an obvious choice chief williams son, he's the perfect example. he's the perfect one to get it. it was not without pushback because he's black and this is where a lot of chief williams on influence, his personal friends are able to
4:45 pm
say my son is a candidate. can you write a letter, teddy ? charles whirley and others like that and it successful so in 1919, 100 years ago wesley williams becomes manhattan's first black fireman. so in any profile or often in any mention of chief williams , he's mentioned alongside of so many of the students who come for the system but particularly these two most famous black civil servants in new york, zen battle or jesse battle as it was on known and his son jesse williams but they were all almost always mentioned in the breath after talking to chief williams at any length . >> he kind of supersedes and at some point as beingchief williams . the known chief williams. >> wesley's not only manhattan's first black fireman, and the fire department is very slow in
4:46 pm
integrating. as opposed to the police department which get a little better. but he also becomes an 1927 the first black fireman tenant. and then and 33, the first black fire captain and in 38 the first battalion g, black fire battalion chief. >> he had been the only for a long time. >> and by 1938, obviously his dad is getting on. and he's got fame of his own. so it's about this time that he's starting to eclipse his father area wesley is always spoken of as his father son andafter 1938 , more often than not chief williams is being referred to as the father of the other chief. >> is kind of perfect.
4:47 pm
>> yes. at some point that's what you're working towards, i think . so i come from a family of trading people. i was an avid train traveler, my father was a poland porter area the past when i was about seven years old but i know what it means to know a family member in the way we would think of my father worked for the railroads. wmy aunt and uncles worked for the railroads so there is a point in time where you can write a railroad free because they work for and track. then you write for discounts. and then as the college students, your life do i want to spend this money? does this make sense to mark one of the tips and it didn't make sense that particular time when updates that my grandmother would often tell me and my uncles whose father would be , he gets the station ,. and the right cats new the time all the trains, they were taking off taking down
4:48 pm
the tracks they could take you on the train before everybody else was getting through area getting through the gates though it was a wonderful thing up until, and i'm not sure now because i don't travel by train as much but at least up until early 2000, the rent was where it was that like compensation no matter what station. >> that was part of the job is they were often described as walking encyclopedias. as part of the original job description. with the that were only supposed to assist, they're not supposed to be laden with all your burdens that didn't last very long wouldn't you find talking about and i got all the stuff and somebody likes looks likethey might be able to take my load , you're getting rid the difference was when they were black red it was expected also that was part of what you need to do to kind of make the travelers
4:49 pm
feel like it was worth their while. you are a lifesaver so you not only do everything, like how to get to the ballpark or what hotels were in town were where you can freshen up but you have to carry bags. and it's in the visual culture of american travel and you see red caps being convicted, they are also always seemed the current golf clubs area i don't know that much about golf, whether there was a particular time when there was this golf grace buteveryone, men and women just like , i know my boss and golf clubs in the house . clthey're happy. and that's with all of the releases and everything else. this was not an easy job aside from all that you're expected to have information . the direct people and make suggestions. but there was also because of williams, one of his, his
4:50 pm
strategies as hiring particularly young college men, this became, this made him very useful organizations like the naacp because these towere you had an interesting crowdthey disseminate information . there was one particular moment in the silent protest pervaded 1917 which followed these riots in east st. louis area again, another dark spot in american history. there was this silent protest parade down fifth avenue area and one of the accounts was that when they got the 42nd street , there were red caps there explaining to passersby what was going on. and it intrigued me because they would not have likely been off the premises not having people williams direct permission and it was
4:51 pm
obviously it had been one of those things thathe couldn't talk about but he knows is working in a terminal. people ask questions like what's going on outside . so i have reason to believe that he and the fact that it was mentioned by one of the comments writers of the time, lester walton this was a strategy to involve. and i hope this particular outline were contributors to the silent protest parade, the fundraising committee read a lot of students came to new york for this particular purpose as well and being students, they were very likely to need jobs while they were going to school there so othis is where they would go. >> was a transient nature about the rent cast particular time i know for me when i use to ride the train, i didn't necessarily have any bags i needed and large and we would strike up conversations and i would learn interesting stories about these red caps so i would love for you to tell us
4:52 pm
about some of the more interesting people who have come through the red caps and also talk about all of the organizations that he williams form. in response to the transient nature of many of these red caps. you might have only been there for a training time. maybe summer, maybe all, the as a student but you were able to create communities to take care of each other during their time with one another . >> one of the interesting things ofwas on the next, the conference is 134, 1/35 street was known asthe campus . because the ymca is there so a lot of people who were new to the city. he also lost a lot of young college. then why wca, was a few
4:53 pm
blocks. so young men and young women would converge and solve the problems of the world out on the street as young people do. and many of them came and hung out specifically eomanot just to check and media and socialize so that they can be visible for people like williams to say are you looking for work? so abc so that they pay their school costs and that was where he would go to the campus, was a virtual place but it was an interesting nickname for the place. some of the things, not sure exactly when you say some organizations we started for them. >> . >> was a baseball. >> america's favorite
4:54 pm
pastime, baseball. everybody plays it, blacksand whites alike . another way to get people together, around people . not just to entertain yourself or of course it's entertaining but your so he organizes this in the grand central terminal and he's there really at the critical time of the formulation of the negro leagues and he does this interesting thing allow the star players from a famous brooklyn team, the brooklyn royals. this is another black team. and the head of, the owner of the team that strong is one of the most powerful man in the runs, i'm forgetting the name ofthe organization of: baseball, he went . he's a hotshot and williams does this interesting thing where he gets players jump ship and play for the red
4:55 pm
caps. though there are a lot of people who are accused next on of not getting black managers a square deal in the game. but he's making a lot of money off the town. and williams takes the newspapers and there's a back-and-forth between williams and neck strong with response. says something to the effect all over the people is a job, but that's kind of critical because that's not what he was offering them red baseballseason is a season . and williams what he had done was to get them to play and be together and still bea good team because they've all been playing . he makes his team, i thought the war and some. but can offer them as per
4:56 pm
which is employment. which song can do. anything like that are what help solidify williams reputation for as a race man. as the piece, he became solid. it's a small still. but they've got this other thing. when the seasons over so that work and one of thestars , captains of the team was cdr. eventually and he's a bigstar in the brooklyn team area there was a public . who published poems, they were electrodes to cdr. and even after he goes over to the manhattan side. she's rapturous. any stops playing baseball but he still read for a while and he's living in williams house for a while and then williams moves to the dunbar houses, williams is one of the first blacks to move on to ivers road in harlem when it opens up to blacks .
4:57 pm
and that girl just across the street on stryker. so organizations like that. i mentioned the orchestra and the benevolent society. and the quartet. and they were to quartets but the initial one. this made grand central even before the tree of rockefeller center became this sort of manifest destination point and holiday time. people would go to grand central to hear red caps singing on the balconies, christmas carols and spirituals so it was really embedded in a holiday tradition. so williams always sort of had his hand in organizing these things that kept him around, keeping it sort of worthwhile event is something that a universal sentiment of us who have been to any school , there was a baseball
4:58 pm
team, there was a track team, there was a leak club or whatever and sometimes when you really hate school is one of the things i'm going to show up to because they get to saying so and so today though he did those things and really, i think this is why. theother thing is because a lot of them were students , a lot of ended finish school and it wasn't unusual to say see an article that said phd carriage or bags and one out of every the red caps and college training which was not the case for other departments where they were all white. and this was, williams was very proud of that they actually had more college educated, but more for seeing more people into college in their department, redcap department at any other department in grand central . also, is efforts in the war really campaign. certainly during the great war, the first world war were
4:59 pm
really notable and there were articles written about how chief williams had gone over the top and what he was able to find. so the thing was not always constant. they were not always sometimes they were scraping but i think because of the morale that he was able to instill in a lot of these men , when the cause team really righteous , they made it work. and this was true. they were acknowledged for this by the naacp, by selling raffle tickets or whatever. making the gala, really a big gala. and so for this reason that his orchestra got walter white when he was sort of this and only cd, he's promoting the orchestra, is writing to the same mexican artists, doing theharlem renaissance . and these inviting them to the gala to settle a ballroom and he says you have to come
5:00 pm
here the red caps. they will play trthe st. louis woman. like you've never heard before. and he's just gushing in his letter area so those kinds of things. those, the way williams was still this good morale. he was a booster. and a lot of these young men did finish college. a lot of them were taking social work courses and became leaders who would eventually went the red caps moved to the next phase inspired by the home importers, organizing a union , by around 1937 and 1940 when the conference invention is in new york. >> ..
5:01 pm
he is getting on at this time and is stylistically different from the organization that he was used to when he started out but it was all part of the same effort and the same struggle in the same result. >> in three minutes we are going to take questions from the audience. there are two mics at the back of the room so please start to line up at those mics if you would like to ask a question. there is so much that we could cover here. this whole life in harlem we haven't gotten above 14th street but they are his a lot about his family. one of the first sets of families that moved up into what is becoming black harlem and their many years prominently in the book and a the black real
5:02 pm
estate agent who helped see the deal of helping black people move into those areas at that time all moving into the harlem that leno. maybe we will save that for those who want to get the book that i did want to take a moment to talk a little bit about his project, his efforts around his interests or not it just maybe around unionizing and his own personal activism as it relates to unions. because you have a philip randolph was doing it for the theolph was doing it for the century. you had james europe who developed the press club which is in the union by the way of ringing together his fellow musicians in making sure that they are not getting short shifted at the jobs that they were hired for. they are hired but when they get
5:03 pm
there they are expected to be service waiters in that sort of thing. for chief williams he is not the loudest voice in the chorus around unionizing but he is not quelling the voices either. >> gets interesting and it's not really clear exactly what his position is other than by inference. there are very slight moment that i came across an research where he is being critiqued for being silent but they are very slight, like one or two and they almost feel and this is my own feeling they almost feel like they are hired for show as if to demonstrate in case the managers of the railroads are concerned that we have got this guy and he is black and he must be sympathizing with them.
5:04 pm
in any of the critiques of the system of the work that they have to do they are never personal against williams and my sense is that he played his role and his silence is really a strategy in the r activism thats taking place. he appears to be an insider but he kind of does the right thing. he has a really important added ellicott position that i think everybody who is the strongest voice in the union effort appreciate. he can get an audience to a certain degree. there are certain ways you can talk to eleanor roosevelt. you may not be all to talk to her directly this way but by some sort of inference you can get on her radar to sort of shift as to what's happening and she becomes a voice in support
5:05 pm
of the red caps unionization. it remains unclear precisely what his attitude was and by the same token i think what he was doing earlier on is he's organizing the red caps before the pullman porters is an older group organized a union so it's a whole different style of activism. it's hard to protest job conditions if you don't have a job so that was really initially what his style of organization was like let's get this thing. let's put our stamp on this and i think by the time the red caps are supporting the trade union he is in a different place. he is an older place. it's not really clear exactly what his position is that i don't get the impression that he
5:06 pm
is against it. and i think i get the sense of i want to say protection because people don't have a kina per share should particularly for a lot of them they had been red capped family so they know what he was about. brown who i mentioned before who was a journalist and was in as late and was the president for two months in 1965. he is a key figure in key figure and he said if it weren't for people like williams who were really proud of their race a lot of young black men wouldn't have been able to go through school. he came to this next level so i think he was, my own thought as he supported unionization. by this time in 38 and he dies
5:07 pm
and 48, just about the 70. so i cut him some slack. and i think what he has been doing is as an activist, activists they are not monolithic. one of his other oldest friends who was the first one like he was up lacks who went to harlem before the great wave of the black migration is the shop steward if you will and so a guy get the feeling it's almost like a trade-off you do this thing and not do this thing. to answer w your question i dont think there's a clear definitive answer on that but my hunch and
5:08 pm
my conjecture is that he was very proud of where the red caps were going in terms of forming a union by this time. >> thank you. does anybody have any questions? >> good evening. my name is deirdre and i'm doing some research on the subject who was known but not well-known. i do actually have access to an archive and i remember you didn't have access to an archive or the gentleman to work with. what were some of the techniques other than searching the newspapers that you used to find mr. williams and the other question is how long did it take you from your initial discovery of mr. williams to actually
5:09 pm
finishing this book? >> the first question was i did have the newspaper databases that were now you -- invaluable but nothing that was invaluable was i had -- is he here? i can't see. james williams great-great-grandson and becomes a repository for all of the visual matter that was in the family so it's not an archive but it was invaluable and being able to look through that and then matching up with records from the municipal archives come the department of records and newspaper articles and being able to contextualize a lot of the images many of which had fallen into his lap and then you become a steward of it.
5:10 pm
this picture of gertrude williams, his daughter, she was on the beach there and this is who she is with and he can look at it and say oh yeah it has the name on the back that sort of thing. so archives are not normally archives in the b way we think f them. thefo other question was how log did it take? i fell upon my discovery of williams in 2013 and it was the centennial of grand central. giving tours within the society and they had gotten the contract for the centennial. i was asked to do it. it was a mite be that all but a new it was between african-americans and the rogue red and i wanted to write something about it. at that time pullman porters and red caps were kind of the same
5:11 pm
thing just an interchangeable name and quickly i realized because it was grand central to railroads were central park is a great park whatever happened there was being copied. his being the first black redcap that quickly caught on to railroad stations all over the place. i wrote an article on an on line piece, it was a small piece and i had met somebody new and interesting and kind of put it away and maybe two years later i applied for a fellowship for people working on biographies and i thought oh there is that guy. i think altogether it was about five or six years but not concerted writing. when i decided i wanted to work on the book it took about five years.
5:12 pm
see nick thank you. >> any other questions? >> while we await this gentleman any statement about the red caps and are there any myths that this biography helps to dispel? >> there was an urban legend that was repeated often but without any direct application that james williams was the first redcap which is a perfectly fine story in the story that is often repeated that on labor day of 1898 young man by the name of james williams got the attention of the crowd with a piece of red flannel to his hat and it stuck out. it's a great story and williams himself never really push that.
5:13 pm
one time i know he was asked. i think we have the benefit of having access with the internet. we have faster access to newspapers that can account for it so it's well-documented towards daniels who was the passenger agent for grand central for the new york railroad. they established at march 1, 1985 specifically with white red caps to do these particular jobs and by williams own account he started in april of 1903. it's an interesting story so that kind of wasn't a big surprise but it was one of those things that you could see how useful the story was in terms of
5:14 pm
building up morale just for the community. i think the other surprise is where that just the variety of things that people were doing who came to the system. there was one young man william t. davis, who was a motorcycle endurance motorcycle rider and he decides to make a living red capping impel hopping and he's trying to break through and in 1929 he takes off running from the cat as down the block to go around the world on a motorcycle. he rides back to one of the sports editors. he is doing travel writing and he goes to japan and he goes to russia and africa and he comes back the following year. i mean i think this is so
5:15 pm
inspirational. how many of you have been around the world? >> and on a motorcycle nonetheless. >> it's impressive. those kinds of things were surprising. maybe because there were often things that people are doing so much today that they were doing what -- doing then did the pat: now is there going to be a gas station? i think we have the whole of the concept of adventure and even with all of the prohibition people have often a sense of we know what prohibition czar and we know what the obstacles are. i have the map and i'm going there. >> or the other way round that we are not thinking about people at the time having those kinds of w adventures because it's not modernized or whatever the case may be. i love that particular set of stories so i would highly
5:16 pm
recommend getting to that part of the book. we are going to go over here for a question. >> i noticed you said that a large percentage of the red caps had some college education. would you know how many of them actually had college degrees and if they were basically from hbcu colleges down south? >> there are often references to a lot of students who would hang out at the campus, coming from a lot of hbcus from the south and this was often their first encounter with blacks who were going to college in the north like from harvard. granger was princeton and robeson was it in my youth -- m-i u..
5:17 pm
they were from all over pretty was known as the place to go to get work during hiatuses to make some money to pay for school. the percentage of those who came out with a degree i'm not sure figures on that but certainly there was a high instance of doctors, particularly at this for some reason, not for some reason could there were a lot of reasons they were dennis as opposed to medical doctors who would work in places where they couldn't get in so dentists could be more independent read a lot of clergy come a lot of educators, judges, lawyers but one article was titled ph.d. carries your bags and the writer , she gave a staff that
5:18 pm
was like one in three red caps were said to have college training. >> one question what was the relationship between williams and a. philip randolph or do they have a relationship? >> there was no direct relationship because the organization they were doing was different. they knew each other and i'm sure they were in social settings together. there certainly wasn't a tacit working relationship and i say that it does it was likely given the nature of williams' mo if you will that they might have had conversations that were not explicit you know like can you take care of this and can you help? we have got it, the manner on it. i don't know what their relationship was formally. >> hey eric.
5:19 pm
i wanted to say thank you for writing the book. i'm glad you put up this book because it gives me a little more stuff to talk about women doing tours in grand central and other f than the consolation of being backwards and a few other things this gives a nice depth. the question is about my curiosity about the red caps because i came a little late but i saw something that said something about the first guy paid by the terminal or the company but did the red caps get tips? >> for the most part there were times when they were getting a little bit of celery and that incident that i mentioned in 1905 the culmination of that was that they were not getting any money.
5:20 pm
if it's the type of job where you're getting tips you have done tips alone and that was what came down. that was the penalty so they were just making tips. >> do you know how much? >> i think it depended on the times and on the economics. theree were periods and it seems seems like in the 20s when everyone seemed to have money after the stock market crashes it crashes for everybody. interestingly enough williams is still on stivers row. that was one of the lines because after 1929 i thought everybody was for it but in some ways it does seem to skip a beat so while people might be tightening their belts on the
5:21 pm
other hand some things went on as normal but they probably are making as much during the depression because you know travelers are tightening their belts to and hanging on to their wallets. later on one of the things that and their other adjustments to start organizing as this controversy about tipping in the red cat start to lose their jobs so they are being charged an amount like 10 cents per bag and people who feel this is unfair because customers are often ready to give a lot more. this becomes a controversy but also as we move into the 40s people are starting to travel lighter not so many golf clubs and wagons and things like that,
5:22 pm
people are finding their own way their own strategies for not having to tip. and also not being encumbered having to wait for baggage and also of course getting into the 40s and 48 it's kind of timely because real service is starting to be fashionable. it's the advent of superhighways and increased airplane travel, people driving where they want to go and the love of the road as opposed to taking trains. this is all going to affect what people are able to pocket. >> thank you. >> we have time for one more question. >> i just wanted to say thank you so much for doing this book. i learned of additional things that i didn't know about my
5:23 pm
great-grandfather. the officer i never knew about. i recognized some of the photos that you had but again there's a lot more that i don't know that i appreciate you doing all that you could do to gather things together for this great book. >> thank you. [applause] >> thank you so very much eric for joining us in this conversation and thank you to the outings for doing the same thing. maybe you didn't hear me before but i do realize there are quite a few family members here so if you all could raise your hand and if we get turn out the thlights a little bit so we can see the family members in the audience. [applause] thank you all for joining us.
5:24 pm
thank you for the work that you do. you are such heroes and we are so pursuit of the stories that we are hoping to continue to unearth as we are collectors of people's archives here so thank you all. air kobe signing his book following this discussion. [applause] >> thank you. >> thank you. >> i was really concerned by what i felt were the kind of corrosive impacts and the false narratives about the fbi and the corrosive effects those narratives were having on the
5:25 pm
people of the fbi and their ability to do their work and i felt like evil understood more about the organization who we are and how we work and what draws people to the fbi and how we make decisions. specific legal authorities and priority policy given to us by the department of justice and personal preference and that sort of thing. [inaudible conversations] thank you for coming out this evening to hear our favorite historian. we really want to welcome him back that he's the author of nine previous books including "the news york times" bestseller the last battle. he's a journalist specializing in military affairs and currently the chief of military
5:26 pm
history. he is a captivating speaker and i was feel that way after hear him talk and she shares these fascinating stories that are full of intrigue and some that none of us have heard about the deceiving his going to share his new book escaped from paris a true story of love in wartime france which is based on american french german documented history of arsenal memoirs and interviews from several of the stories. it's a thrilling wartime adventure story of aviators rescued by frenchman hidden under the very noses of the gestapo. please join me in wall coming him. [applause] >> i would like to personally thank you all for coming. i really appreciate when people show up and i hope not to bore you. i want to look at the background
5:27 pm
on myself because people tend to wonder how you end up writing military history pinellas born and raised in southern california a long time ago and my father and all of my uncles fought in world war ii in the pacific. i grew up hearing their stories of fighting the japanese in sailing the broad ocean. when i was 19 i was in the united states army in 1971. in retrospect it was not the best decision i ever made because six months later i got run over by an armored personnel carrier and as a result i'm at disabled veteran and i will tell you those armored personnel carriers are very happy and they don't give much. i spent just over a year in army hospitals in germany and the united states and this was obviously way before the internet so there was the whole lot else to do but to read. also i couldn't set up so whatever is going to do ahead to
5:28 pm
build a hold of my head. there were a couple of days of volunteer would come from the library the hospital is attached to and being a military hospital most of what they have on offer was military fiction or military history. the kind of reawakened my interest in military history. i eventually got out of the hospital wearing several types of races and i could no longer be an infantryman for reasons i still don't understand. they made me a journalist. i spent the last year of my time in germany doing radio television print journalism. i got out of the army and they went back to school at the university of california santa barbara which i will tell you is absolute the best place on the planet to go the college is this if you like to surf which i did. i have two degrees in history from the university of california. immediately went to work for the federal government.
5:29 pm
i was initially a historian for the bureau of land management which is interesting because i was doing historical studies of indian tribes which i knew nothing about because there was a modern military historian could eventually ran a museum for the navy and marine corps on treasure island in san francisco bay which was a wonderful place to work. i ended up as a staff historian for the airport in the army. in the army i was working at the u.s. army center of military history in d.c. and i heard the story that became the last battle, the story of the only time in world war ii when americans and germans joined forces and fought together and they did it to defend the castle in austria and was filled with irritating french vips who were about to be murdered by the ss. it's also the only time an american military history the u.s. soldiers defended the castle. it's a great story and it's developed into a movie now. other books followed and
5:30 pm
bringing us up to escape from paris -- "escape from paris" when i finished the last book my agent is all agents do, okay what is your next book? i said i'm not sure i want to write another book. just do a book on the history of tsunami's or the ocean or or or something in the said oh no you or military historian. i said you have a suggestion to the said yeah i have three ideas for you. paris, world war ii and americans. i said that's a fascinating idea but there weren't any americans in occupied france and he said i'm sure you'll find some. [laughter] 18 months of research later i did indeed find out that there were americans in german occupied paris during world war ii. they were allied aviators had been shot down and friends and managed to come under the wing
5:31 pm
of the french resistance. they were generally moved to larger cities in paris because the other americans who did not speak french would stand out like a sore thumb in any french village at that time, 3 million people lots of places to hide. the story that i first found was on a particular day in 1943 was july 14 which was bastille day. there was a bombing. conducted by the 94th bomber group which is taste in sussex, england. they were just one group or there were several groups involved so there were over 100 airplanes bombing different targets in and around paris. it was the old german airfield. b-17s from the 94th bomb group
5:32 pm
were shot down in about 20 minutes. three of them were shot down and they'll tell you what happened to the fourth one in a minute. i found that story and i thought okay i had wanted to do a story about the air force but i also wanted to do a story about the resistance and i always wanted to write something that told the role of women in world were to because it's a huge concept. it just so happened he came together that this book sort of brings all those threads together. i found the story about the 94th -- and the guys getting shot down. i managed to find the one guy who became the focus of my story a guy named joe cornwall from washington state. he was a gunner in one of the b-17s amp chose aircraft the b-17 bombers in world war ii
5:33 pm
generally carried a crew of 10 men. on his plane that day there were 11 people is that in addition to the regular crewmen they have on board a man named jefferson davis dixon. yes he was from the south. jeff dixon was a fascinating guide and i thought for a while about doing a book on him. it didn't work out. jeff dixon >> we are going to leave this program to bring you live coverage of today's house rules committee hearing that members are working on the creation of a coronavirus select committee. now live to the rules committee on c-span2.
5:34 pm
[inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on