New Exhibit Honoring African American Employees of the B&O Railroad
By Dana Kirn, Director of External Affairs, B&O Railroad Museum
Baltimore, MD – During February’s Black History Month, and on into March, 2019, the B&O Railroad Museum will present a new temporary exhibit, entitled Best In Service, a rare art exhibit of paintings and photographs from the B&O archives not previously displayed honoring the service of African Americans and their contributions to the B&O Railroad.
Best In Service features original paintings by American illustrators Dan Content and Roy Federick Spreter. Commissioned by the B&O Railroad in the early 1930s, these artists painted full page, oil on canvas railroad scenes of service primarily used for creating advertisements for publications such as the “Saturday Evening Post” and the “B&O Employee Magazine.”
Additionally, Best in Service highlights the lives and service of four prominent African American B&O Railroad employees – Thurgood Marshall, Thurgood’s Uncle Fearless M. Williams, Charles Wright and Maggie Hudson.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, whose roots run deep in the Baltimore community and the B&O Railroad, worked as a waiter and porter on board B&O dining cars while earning a college degree at Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Marshall obtained his position with the B&O Railroad because his father, William Canfield Marshall, was a B&O Railroad porter and waiter. His “Uncle Fee”, Fearless M. Williams on his mother side of the family, served the B&O Railroad for 46 years as a floor porter for B&O Railroad executive staff including its presidents and became a very prominent member of the Baltimore business community.
Charles W. Wright began his 33-year career with the B&O Railroad in 1884 as head butler for B&O president John W. Garrett. In 1910 he was promoted to head cook aboard B&O No. 99 for B&O president, Daniel Willard, who eventually became a very close friend.
Maggie Hudson born in Shuqualak, Mississippi in 1919 moved to South Baltimore in the early 1940’s because she heard that the B&O Railroad was “hiring girls”. The B&O Railroad hired Maggie in 1943 as one its first female African American porter-ette, a position she held for 36 years. On April 13, 2019, Hudson turns 100 years old, making her the oldest living known B&O Railroad employee.
B&O Railroad jobs for African-Americans were considered elite positions for the time. Best In Service provides an immersive look into their lives through these and other African American exhibits at the B&O Railroad Museum:
- C&O #409, circa 1900 “Jim Crow” passenger car that depicts a stark visual of passenger seating, restrooms and accommodations for whites and blacks when segregation was mandated by law as “separate was equal.”
- Dinner in the Diner, a B&O dining car exhibit, highlighting African Americans who served the B&O Railroad as chefs and waiters. Their work on board dining cars was exceptional, providing passengers with high-quality service, including many U.S. Presidents.
Best in Service will only be on exhibit at the B&O Railroad Museum for the months of February and March, until March 31st, 2019. First to Fight: Railroaders of WWI featuring a scale model of the 1917 Battle of Cambrai will be exhibited May and June. August and September conclude with Protecting the Line: The First Railroad Police Unit in the Nation that also provides a peek into the Museum’s future with the opening of First Mile Stables, a new home for Baltimore City’s Mounted Police Unit.
B&O Railroad Museum, 901 W. Pratt St. Baltimore, MD 21223
Admission: $20 adults, $17 seniors (60+), $12 children (ages 2-12)
The B&O Railroad Museum™, a full affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of American railroading and its impact on American society, culture and economy. The Museum is home to the oldest, most comprehensive collection of railroad artifacts in the Western Hemisphere including an unparalleled roster of 19th and 20th century railroad equipment. The 40-acre historic site is regarded as the birthplace of American Railroading and includes the 1851 Mt. Clare Station, the 1884 Baldwin Roundhouse and first mile of commercial railroad track in America. For further information on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, please call 410-752-2490 or visit www.borail.org.
e*Train Editors Note: A video presentation by WBAL News, Channel 11, Baltimore is available at https://www.wbaltv.com/article/pullman-porters-embedded-in-bando-railroad-history/18657805 for viewing now and after the March 31st closing date of the B&O Museum exhibit.