PULLMAN —Rather than spend money traveling to Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, which was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., community activist Lyn Hughes suggests people honor the date closer to home.
The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, founded by Hughes in 1995, will hold a free event Saturday, Aug. 24 at the museum, 10604 S. Maryland Ave., from 1 to 5 p.m.
"The March on Washington was all about job creation and freedom for blacks," Hughes said. "We know money is tight for everyone so our president, David Peterson Jr., came up with the idea to sponsor a local celebration."
Hughes said many don't know that the March on Washington was inspired by Asa Philip Randolph, a labor organizer who founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. The Brotherhood became the first black labor union in the country following its 1937 inclusion by the American Federation of Labor.
While the 1963 March on Washington is hailed as a pivotal point in civil rights history, most people don't know that Randolph founded the March on Washington Movement in 1941 with civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, Hughes said.
According to historians, the MOWM was formed to organize a mass march on Washington to pressure the U.S. government to desegregate the armed forces and provide fair working opportunities for blacks. With the threat of thousands descending on Washington to protest the government's failures in these areas, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802.
That historic executive order banned discriminatory employment practices by federal agencies, all unions and companies contracted to perform war-related work. The order also established the Fair Employment Practices Commission to enforce the new policy. The commission preceded the Fair Employment Act.
With all demands met, Randolph and Rustin called off the march.
The celebration at the museum will also feature a lecture by historian Christopher Reed and the Chicago Black History Forum in honor of the Pullman porters.
Train travel changed in 1867, when Chicago industrialist George Pullman revolutionized it with his famous Pullman Cars staffed by black men, who were recently freed slaves.
The Pullman Rail Car Company became the largest employer of blacks in the country and the greatest concentration of Pullman porters lived on the South Side, according to historian Timuel Black.
"[The Pullman porters] were good looking, clean and immaculate in their dress. Their style was quite manly, their language was carefully crafted, so that they had a sense of intelligence about them," recalled Black, 94. "They were good role models for young men."
Black added that being a Pullman porter was a prestigious position because it offered a steady income and an opportunity to travel across the country, which was rare for blacks at that time.
The celebration of this history will continue with a Sunday gala at the museum, which will feature speakers including U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), whose district includes Chatham.
Two Pullman porters, Milton Jones, 98, and Benjamin Gaines, 90, are expected to attend the gala.
Museum organizers hope to raise $20,000 from the gala, with proceeds funding a youth exhibit.
“We look forward to providing a forum where the march can be remembered and where the black labor movement can be celebrated," said Peterson. "It is only fitting that these events take place at the only museum in the nation that bears the names of Mr. Randolph and the Pullman Porters."
The gala will take place Sunday, Aug. 25 from 5-9 p.m. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online or at the door.