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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hill Baker, June 1977. Interview H-0109-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racial dynamics on the railroad

Baker reveals a bit about the dynamics of railroad work. White workers were more numerous and were paid better than black workers; positions were racially segregated; and black workers like Baker had to ingratiate themselves to their white supervisors to keep their jobs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hill Baker, June 1977. Interview H-0109-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PATTY DILLEY:
How long did you stay there on the railroad?
HILL BAKER:
About seven years.
PATTY DILLEY:
And you were a brakeman the whole time?
HILL BAKER:
Yes, ma'am.
PATTY DILLEY:
Were most of the people that worked on the railroad white or black?
HILL BAKER:
A mixture.
PATTY DILLEY:
Would you say they were more white than black?
HILL BAKER:
Yes, I believe they were. The whites had better jobs than we had.
PATTY DILLEY:
What kinds of jobs did the blacks have when they worked on the railroad?
HILL BAKER:
They were brakemen, switchmen. They wasn't no flagmen or conductors or nothing like that.
PATTY DILLEY:
The white people had those jobs?
HILL BAKER:
That's right. Well, they had some white brakemen, too.
PATTY DILLEY:
But it was mostly the whites that had the more paying jobs.
HILL BAKER:
Sure.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you work for a company, or what kind of a boss did you have?
HILL BAKER:
We had a boss and a superintendent.
PATTY DILLEY:
How many people were they in charge of?
HILL BAKER:
About five: fireman, engineer, brakeman, conductor, and flagman.
PATTY DILLEY:
These were mostly white people that worked as the supervisors?
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes. There were more white folks worked on the railroad back then than colored folks. They had better jobs.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you feel any kind of a loyalty to the bosses or the supervisors when you first started working?
HILL BAKER:
Well, I had to listen to them, if that's what you mean.
PATTY DILLEY:
But you didn't have to like them?
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes, I had to like them if I stayed there.
PATTY DILLEY:
What exactly does a brakeman do on a railroad?
HILL BAKER:
They have a front brakeman and a rear brakeman. The rear brakeman looks after the tracks at the rear of the train. The front brakeman tends to help the engineer and the fireman. Guide them in when they want to go on a side track to meet another train or something like that, and you'd have to throw the switches, direct them in.
PATTY DILLEY:
So you rode on the train when you did this?
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes.