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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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 fire.