Atlas Obscura and the Great Migration, by Rail

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Trollopian

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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.
 

Bob Dylan

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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.
 

reppin_the_847

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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.
Most likely Alabama to Detroit as well.
 

Trollopian

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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.

 

Palmland

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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.
 

Trollopian

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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.
 
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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.
 

Bob Dylan

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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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Palmland

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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.
 

Eric in East County

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“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.
 

Trollopian

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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.
 

como

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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.
 

Trollopian

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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.
 

me_little_me

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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.
 

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