Race determines jobs in the railroad yard
Race determined what job each individual held in the railroad yard. Drawing on ideas of biological determinism, Strickland claims that only African American men could withstand the heat of the engine and shovel the coal.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. 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
A lot of coal being handled. There wasn't no such
thing as a diesel back in them days. Wasn't nothing but
hand-fired engines and later on they got the stoker, and they got the
butterfly fire door. But before that, wasn't nothing but just
the hand-fired engines. That was a bad job. I tell you the truth, there
wasn't a white man that could hardly stand up to being a
fireman on the railroad. They hired them engineers back yonder 1900.
They used to hire a man, pretty smart, and those colored men about the
only thing that could stand the job firing. All
those old engines was hand-fired. I seen them jerk that
chain—didn't have that—they had a door
and fire box, and he jerked that door with a chain. Stand there, and
throw a hook in that fire box, hook it up, stir it up and rake up the
fire, had to do that. Sometimes, he'd pull a plinker out of
there too. While he had that door open, I seen him—old Reuben
Archie and Joe Reily and all that crowd. They were colored.
That's the only thing that could stand that job. So much heat
and so hot.—I seen the doggone fire on the side of the
overalls. It would be so hot, that door standing open there, take a
handful of dough and rub the fire out of his leg. His britches leg would
catch a fire, it was so hot.
- LU ANN JONES:
A handful of what?
- RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Dough, a handful of waste. It wasn't a rag, you know what
waste is. His britches leg along there would be so hot, he'd
grab some waste and rub the fire off his leg keep him from burning and
scorching the cloth. Them overalls he's wearing,
he'd rub that fire off his leg, standing there rake that