Atlas Obscura and the Great Migration, by Rail

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Atlas Obscura, a website devoted to travel both real and armchair, has an interesting article about how the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Route” helped to diversify Southern California and create a Little Louisiana, where many migrants came from. (Featured today, reprinted from February 2019.) See How the 'Sunset Route' Railroad Helped Diversify California. Of course, the route was the predecessor to today’s Sunset Limited.



Scholars of the Great Migration will recognize the pattern. As African-Americans fled the South to the West and the North, destinations were greatly shaped by rail lines. See the “Map of Migration Routes Followed by African Americans During the Great Migration” at Map of Migration Routes Followed by African Americans During the Great Migration · HERB: Resources for Teachers. The three stories followed in Isabel Wilkerson’s wonderful The Warmth of Other Suns very much follow that pattern: Mississippi to Chicago, Florida to New York, and Louisiana to Los Angeles.
 
Interesting find.

This also happened in West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona where the SP Route attracted many Hispanics, both to help build the Tracks and then later work as Section hands and Support staff along the route.

During the Depression in the 1930s, many of these Hispanics Workers were replaced by Anglos.

The start of WWII saw them return to meet the increased demand for hands that the Railroads and Country needed.
 
Atlas Obscura, a website devoted to travel both real and armchair, has an interesting article about how the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Route” helped to diversify Southern California and create a Little Louisiana, where many migrants came from. (Featured today, reprinted from February 2019.) See How the 'Sunset Route' Railroad Helped Diversify California. Of course, the route was the predecessor to today’s Sunset Limited.



Scholars of the Great Migration will recognize the pattern. As African-Americans fled the South to the West and the North, destinations were greatly shaped by rail lines. See the “Map of Migration Routes Followed by African Americans During the Great Migration” at Map of Migration Routes Followed by African Americans During the Great Migration · HERB: Resources for Teachers. The three stories followed in Isabel Wilkerson’s wonderful The Warmth of Other Suns very much follow that pattern: Mississippi to Chicago, Florida to New York, and Louisiana to Los Angeles.

Most likely Alabama to Detroit as well.
 
Not to derail a thread that I started, but maybe divert it to a branch:

One of my cable channels yesterday showed After the Thin Man, the second (and in my opinion the best) of the six Thin Man movies. After the T.M. opens with a glorious, for train buffs, vista of the Sunset Limited barreling at full steam through spectacular Southwest scenery before switching focus to Nick and Nora in their private sleeping car, busily packing up their belongings before they arrive in San Francisco. (On time, according to the guy writing these updates on a chalkboard.)

I give the series a B for continuity: at the end of The Thin Man, the married detectives are heading from New York to San Francisco and traveling due west, as is clear from the dialogue; not via New Orleans, the starting point of the Sunset Limited. But an A for train thrills.

You can't see the full opening sequence but you can see bits in the trailer (linked below) . And a terrific image of the Sunset Limited in the desert at After the Thin Man modern setting for a moderne setting. Or you can watch the film. Preferably while drinking a martini.

 
You could always count on the old movies having at least a brief railroad scene. I enjoy the Thin Man movies because the dialog was so good, often witty always well done. Not so much today with so many being the bang em up shoot em up techno style.

Working two summers In South Carolina during college in the 60’s the great migration was in full swing at the station every evening. Maybe those roots contribute to the Palmetto doing well.

i have the hard copy Atlas Obscura. Thanks for pointing out what should have been obvious to me that there is a lot more in an online version.
 
You could always count on the old movies having at least a brief railroad scene. I enjoy the Thin Man movies because the dialog was so good, often witty always well done. Not so much today with so many being the bang em up shoot em up techno style.

Working two summers In South Carolina during college in the 60’s the great migration was in full swing at the station every evening. Maybe those roots contribute to the Palmetto doing well.

i have the hard copy Atlas Obscura. Thanks for pointing out what should have been obvious to me that there is a lot more in an online version.

Indeed, Palmland, the 1960s were near the end of the "Great Migration," which historians apparently date between 1916 and 1970 and during which an estimated 6 million African Americans left the Deep South. It was a combined push-pull: the tug of Northern jobs (no accident that it began with wartime ramp-up in 1916 though the larger wave came around WWII) combined with the increased mechanization of agriculture and the horrible conditions, including widespread lynchings, endured by African Americans in the South.

According to the map posted by the CUNY scholar at Map of Migration Routes Followed by African Americans During the Great Migration · HERB: Resources for Teachers, most likely the people you witnessed heading north were on their way to Washington DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC, etc., on routes corresponding to today's Palmetto and Silver service.
 
Slightly off topic, but I'll risk it. My mom had a friend who was from either Alabama or Mississippi - in a railroad town (or at least a town with a station). She said when she was growing up (the 30's/early 40's) it was the black kids who'd seen the world and told them stories about the wonders of Chicago and other parts of the country. As I understood it, it was both travel because of employee discounts and visits to relatives who'd moved.

I grew up with a lot of black folk who still had strong southern roots and would go back to visit family, but know others who had no direct contact with the south at all.
 
As a boy, I remember talking with a Black man who worked on SP Passenger Trains that lived close to my Grandfather ( who worked for SP.for 40 years).He was originally from Mississippi and said he realized as a child that he had to get out of the Deep South.

He would tell me stories about what happened on the Trains, and all the places he had been to that made me want to ride Trains whenever I could.

When the Movie " Giant" was filming in West Texas in the 1950s, he had a small roll as the Porter on Rock Hudsons Private Car that brought he and Elizabeth Taylor to West Texas.

Said that both of them were really friendly,and that Rock tipped him $100 when his part finished and that later on he saw him in LA @ Union Station getting on the Sunset Ltd. and that he remembered him.
 
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On one of our trips to grandparents in Tennessee I remember My mother was having a long conversation with the porter (no one used ‘attendant’ in those days.) Turns out he was from the same small town near Nashville where we were visiting. They had a great conversation and he was so proud to have his job. It was considered one of the best when opportunities were so limited for his race. I‘m sure he encountered may inequities but he loved his job and it showed. Wish I had been older as I’m sure he had many railroad stories to tell. Unlike those that had to move to get a good job, he was able to return home often. Still remember seeing his name posted in the car: Yarborough.
 
“La Hoon-tah” figures prominently in one of our favorite railroad films: the 1952 film noir classic The Narrow Margin starring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor. Set on board a streamliner traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles by way of La Junta and Albuquerque, the plot has tough-as-nails LAPD detective McGraw escorting an important witness to Los Angeles so that she can testify against a crime syndicate. (McGraw spends most of the trip trying to protect his witness from syndicate hitmen who are also on board.) Because it was produced on a modest budget, the streamliner’s arrival at La Junta was actually filmed at the Santa Barbara station, while other scenes were filmed in front of the San Bernardino station.
You could always count on the old movies having at least a brief railroad scene.
 
You’re right, Palmland. Trains figure in at least four of the six Thin Man movies (glamorous, cross-country sleepers in the first three, released between 1934 and 1939; a crowded regional train jammed standing-room only with civilians and soldiers in the fifth, The Thin Man Goes Home, 1945). Judy Garland and her fellow hostesses out to civilize the Wild West in The Harvey Girls. Joel McCrea riding the rails with hoboes in Preston Sturgis’s brilliant Sullivan’s Travels, a comedy that turns deadly serious then comic again. The Palm Beach Story from the same director. Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt, North by Northwest, and, of course, Strangers on a Train. Sweet Sue and her all-girls’ (well, not quite) orchestra traveling from Chicago to Florida in Some Like It Hot. Sean Connery and Robert Shaw fighting to the death in From Russia With Love.



So do I like old movies because they have trains, or do I like trains because they’re so much a part of old movies? Yes.
 
As a boy, I remember talking with a Black man who worked on SP Passenger Trains that lived close to my Grandfather ( who worked for SP.for 40 years).He was originally from Mississippi and said he realized as a child that he had to get out of the Deep South.

He would tell me stories about what happened on the Trains, and all the places he had been to that made me want to ride Trains whenever I could.

When the Movie " Giant" was filming in West Texas in the 1950s, he had a small roll as the Porter on Rock Hudsons Private Car that brought he and Elizabeth Taylor to West Texas.

Said that both of them were really friendly,and that Rock tipped him $100 when his part finished and that later on he saw him in LA @ Union Station getting on the Sunset Ltd. and that he remembered him.
Both my parents were from Alabama and both had train stories. My grandfather worked as a railway postal clerk on runs from Montgomery, AL to Nashville or Atlanta. His run would start at Union Station but would make a stop at a suburban station on the east side of the city. My mom, aunt, and uncle would race each other from their house through a Whites-only park to wave at him when his train went through the suburban station. They told me that they told my grandmother they walked AROUND the park! My dad told me about trips from Birmingham to Detroit when he was around 7 or 8 to visit relatives in Detroit who had made the migration north. The trains were segregated all the way to Cincinnati and he remembers how surprised he was to be in a coach with White people between Cincinnati and Detroit.
 
The trains were segregated all the way to Cincinnati and [my dad] remembers how surprised he was to be in a coach with White people between Cincinnati and Detroit.

That recollection of a shameful time, told so matter-of-factly, dovetails with the rail map of the Great Migration linked earlier (see Map of Migration Routes Followed by African Americans During the Great Migration · HERB: Resources for Teachers). From Alabama and Mississippi, migrants headed north to the industrial Midwest, primarily to Chicago and Detroit, but also east to Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh. The recollection that "trains were segregated all the way to Cincinnati" makes sense, because only the Ohio River separates Cincinnati from segregated Kentucky with its thicket of Jim Crow laws ( List of Jim Crow law examples by state - Wikipedia).

I guess that fibbing about taking forbidden shortcuts is part of childhood, my sister and I did it too; but three black kids racing through a whites-only park could've ended very, very badly. They must've been fast. Remember, this is Montgomery, AL, terminus of the famous Selma-to-Montgomery marches.
 
In our tow, the local train depot is now the home to a model RR club and small museum. On the wall is a copy of an architect's drawing of an early 20th century expansion of the depot. It shows a typical Southern (and Southern Rwy) building with its segregated and obviously unequal areas.

I try to make it a point to show new visitors, particularly teens and 20s, this example of what life was like in the South. One of the trains that stopped at our depot was a daily Southern Rwy sleeper train that went as far north as Cincinnati.
 
Thanks, everyone for all this information. I’m reading the Warmth of other Sons for a class I’m taking, and the author states that at it’s highest point, 10,000 African Americans entered Chicago in a month. I was wondering how the RRs handled all the traffic. And how Chicago and it’s people deal with it?
 
Thanks, everyone for all this information. I’m reading the Warmth of other Sons for a class I’m taking, and the author states that at it’s highest point, 10,000 African Americans entered Chicago in a month. I was wondering how the RRs handled all the traffic. And how Chicago and it’s people deal with it?

The short answer is overcrowding, often squalid and grim and unhealthy conditions, chiefly on the South Side of Chicago in an area that became known as the Black Belt. (But also a concentration of Black entrepreneurship and vibrant African-American culture.) Segregation was de facto rather than de jure; redlining and restrictive covenants limited homeownership choice; race relations were strained especially between newcomers from the Deep South and recently-arrived European immigrants; lynchings were not unknown but far, far less prevalent than in the Deep South that the migrants left. "While African Americans made up less than two percent of the city's population in 1910, by 1960 the city was nearly 25 percent black." (Source: History of African Americans in Chicago - Wikipedia) You'll read more about these as you continue with Warmth of Other Suns.

But as for "wondering how the RRs handled all the traffic," well, there are more knowledgeable people on this board than I am, but I bet that even 10,000 a week were only a fraction of passenger arrivals in Chicago in railroads' heyday.
 
And how Chicago and it’s people deal with it?
Volumes have been written on that, but the short answer is that the Great Migration is the origin of the Chicago's South Side as we know it today. As late as the 1920s it was an industrial area populated mainly by the descendants of Irish and Eastern European immigrants, a bit like Omaha or Pittsburgh, and unrecognizable except for the odd catholic church when compared to the same area today.
 
There were major race related riots around 1919 - I wasn't taught that in school (of course, Chicago history wasn't particularly well published in HS level books - and I went to a black HS) and had to learn it abroad - though I would have probably learned it at the same age anywhere.

"As late as the 1920s it was an industrial area populated mainly by the descendants of Irish and Eastern European immigrants, a bit like Omaha or Pittsburgh, and unrecognizable except for the odd catholic church when compared to the same area today."

Actually, no. The initial heart of the "black belt" was not at all industrial but was what had been upper income to wealthy residential areas - heavily Jewish in fact (Operation PUSH is headquartered in the former K.A.M. Temple for example). The industrial and working class areas were not part of the initial phases of black population growth - that happened from the 50's-60's onward into the 70's, both on the south and west sides. This may surprise some, but we actually had a working farm or two within the City limits until the 1980's. Much of the south side wasn't built up until after WWII - some of it for middle-income black occupancy (the post war style "Chicago Bungalow"). There is still a lot of bitterness about the process of block busting on both sides, the bustee's and the busted's which was pushed by real estate agents to profit from selling of houses through fear of racial change.
 
At the trolley museum where I volunteer we have a car from Dallas Railway and Terminal Co., car #434. When we are conducting on this car we sometimes point out the row of brackets above the windows, something not seen on other cars. These were used to hold a sign indicating the boundary between the "Whites Only" and "Colored" portions of the car which could be moved as necessary. One of those sad but unavoidable factoids in the history of transportation in this country. Fortunately this particular form of segregation ended when a certain woman named Rosa Parks tired from a hard day at work decided she was not going to move from her seat on a Montgomery AL bus when more White passengers boarded, resulting in the bus boycott that ended this form of segregation.
 
Last week's Washington Post travel section featured a story by a woman who, with her young son, retraced her great-grandmother's journey from Yazoo City, Mississippi to St. Louis sometime between 1918 and 1924. Fittingly for Black History Month, the writer encourages other families to do the same. She was lucky enough to have known her great-grandmother, though just barely; failing that, "talk to the elders;" failing that, hunt down the family Bible, Census records, news mentions especially in Black newspapers, and so forth.

Like the Atlas Obscura article and The Warmth of Other Suns, the Post article reiterates how the Great Migration followed historic rail routes. "Families on the East Coast took the Atlantic Coast train to Richmond, then connected to different rail lines going farther north. Families based in Mississippi took the Illinois Central north to Memphis, then onward to cities such as St. Louis and Chicago. The Southern Pacific Railroad would have taken passengers based in Louisiana and Texas westward to California, according to 'The Routledge Historical Atlas of the American Railroads.'"

Story at https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2023/02/16/great-migration-african-americans/ (possible paywall, but everyone can read a few stories each month for free)
 
And then there was what author Stewart Holbrook called "the Far Corner" -- the Pacific Northwest. Migration along the railways brought Scandinavians from the upper midwest. They were an item of concern in the Red Line maps of Portland, where they settled near the docks. The small Black population was mainly there for railway jobs until the migration of all groups to the defense industries and ports of WWII. I remember in grade school that there was friction between kids of the established, often middle-class, members of racial/ethnic groups and the less well off newcomers of the same groups.

In the mid-1960's the SP&S and the NP bought some lightweight coaches from the L&N. I remember a couple of us asking why they had a divider in some of them!

Dining styles traveled the rails, too. "Chinese" food got to the Midwest in dining cars from California. It has not been that long since Asian noodle dishes or Egg Foo Yung were considered to be exotic.

There are some Canadian migration patterns that also followed the rails. In particular, the Soo Line carried emigrants from the upper midwest into the Canadian prairies to homestead, bringing baseball and a different accent than the stereotype of Canadian speech.

And some of those Scandinavians did well enough to afford a reunion trip back home.

1914 02 24 - NP ad in Oregonian.jpg
 

I'm loving that the "Special Northern Pacific Train," which sounds very much like it follows (most of) the route of today's Empire Builder, collected Norwegians from the Northwest then Montana and the Dakotas before meeting up with other travelers (via Chicago, I bet?) in Minneapolis. "Proceed to New York, in one grand party." I bet the aquavit started flowing long, long before Minneapolis.

The May 1914 date is poignant. Historian David Fromkin titled his book on the run-up to war Europe's Last Summer.
 
I'm loving that the "Special Northern Pacific Train," which sounds very much like it follows (most of) the route of today's Empire Builder, collected Norwegians from the Northwest then Montana and the Dakotas before meeting up with other travelers (via Chicago, I bet?) in Minneapolis. "Proceed to New York, in one grand party." I bet the aquavit started flowing long, long before Minneapolis.

The May 1914 date is poignant. Historian David Fromkin titled his book on the run-up to war Europe's Last Summer.
It would have been on the route served by Amtrak's North Coast Hiawatha on the segment between Sandpoint and Fargo. I'm sure you are right in the double meaning of "one grand party". It reminds me of a British Columbia Shriner's movement in 1973. Amtrak provided them with through cars from Van BC to Portland and return, and by the time they reached my Gray Line bus shuttle...

In line with this thread, many of the homesick travelers would have been the people who later were gently satirized by Garrison Keillor.
 
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