For black porters and their families, the uncertainties of railroading lay more with discriminatory labour practices than with accidents and absences. In March 1898, for example, a major controversy occurred over the employment policies of the Intercolonial Railway. The perceived redundancy of sleeping car porters on the Maritime express, operating between Halifax and Montreal during the slack season, resulted in the dismissal or demotion of seven black porters, six of whom, including James Daniels, were domiciled in Halifax. Their duties were added to those of the white conductors. Two other Halifax men, employed as assistant cooks, one of whom was Charles Pinheiro, were also affected. All eight Halifax men were freemasons. While the Tory press used the incident as part of a continuing attack on federal Liberal railway patronage, the exposé also revealed the tenuous features of black working-class life and the impact of the introduction of the colour line in a government institution. Porters Thomas Arthur, Joseph H. Berry, James McN. Daniels and Charles T. Dixon had been receiving wages of $35 a month. Since they were regular employees of the ICR, they were offered positions in the dining car service as lunch counter operators at wages of $20 plus board.
Dixon soon threw up this inferior employment and successfully sought employment with the CPR, while the others continued to run with the ICR. As the opposition Herald asserted, “The cold facts are that six poor men have been summarily deprived of their means of livelihood, and that three others have been given temporary employment at one-half their former salaries”. The black community reacted to the discrimination with an “indignation” meeting at which they drew up a letter of protest to submit to Halifax’s members of parliament. In early April, the Reverend J. Francis Robinson, the African-American pastor of Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, preached a suitably political sermon on the dismissals, in which he equally deplored racism and capitalism. While he did not advocate radical protest, he endorsed the importance of both civil rights and trade unionism as protest strategies. If whites could use the vote and industrial action to oppose their oppressors, he argued, why not the blacks also:
For 250 years this race served in bondage, suffering the most poignant
sensations of shame, immorality, demoralization and degradation. Its men
have been victimized, and they are still victimized, proscribed against and
imposed upon by the dominant race both in the United States and here in
Canada. They are not only deprived of the privilege of their civil rights,
but in many instances denied the human right to gain an honest livelihood
for themselves and families….the colored voters number about 1,000 and
that was sufficient number to give them the balance of
power….[Moreover,] were the Negro porters and the race as strongly
organized into labor protective unions, etc., like their white brothers, the
LCR. would not have succeeded so well and peaceably in displacing their
colored labor and substituting white in their stead.32
The railwaymen appear not to have shared his militancy. Although some of them were in the forefront of the struggle for racial equality, expressed most forcefully in Halifax in the school de-segregation campaign of the last quarter of the 19th century, they did not take up Robinson’s challenge. They just wanted their jobs back. Most of them remained in or returned to ICR service within a couple of years. One of the side effects of the ICR dismissals was the acceleration of employment with the CPR, as Dixon’s experience illustrates. Like Pullman, the CPR appears to have preferred blacks for the position of sleeping car porter. 33 The ICR, on the other hand, reduced its proportion of black porters in the early 20th century, at least temporarily. Moreover, a policy of not promoting black porters to conductors emerged, which was formally recognized in the ICR regulations of 1913. Perhaps to compensate, wages were improved in 1913 and rooms at lay-over points were provided for sleeping car crews who had previously had to stay cramped up in the cars.
28 Halifax County Marriage Registers, Knight-Joseph, 25 November 1880 (457), PANS; SPC papers,
MG 20, vol. 516, No. 6, 15, 16, 21 December 1885; No. 8, 3, 12 September, 8 October, 10, 22, 23
November 1888, PANS; 1901 nominal census, ward 4, sect. 5, p. 9 and ward 5, sect. 9, p. 10;
Halifax City Directory, 1881/2-1904/5; Acadian Recorder, 16 February 1907; Estate of James
Solomon Knight (6416), Halifax County Probate Court Office; Jane Lewis, “The Working-Class
Wife and Mother and State Intervention, 1870-1918”, in Jane Lewis, ed., Labour and Love:
Women’s Experience of Home and Family, 1850-1940 (Oxford, 1986), p. 108.
29 Halifax City Directory , 1883/4-1918; Minutes of the African Baptist Association of Nova Scotia,
24th Session, 1877, 26th Session, 1879, 27th Session, 1880, 39th Session, 1892, 42nd Session,
1895, 50th Session, 1903.
30 1891 nominal census, ward 5g, p. 19; 1901 nominal census, ward 5, sect. 8, p. 10; Halifax County
Marriage Registers, Daniels-Johnson, 14 April 1894 (118), PANS; Halifax City Directory, 1887/8-
31 This account is derived from the daily press: Halifax Herald, 25, 28, 29 March, 8, 11, 13, 14, 15
April 1898; Morning Chronicle, 25 March, 13 April 1898. Quotation from Halifax Herald, 29
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