Last week, As It Happens highlighted The Chicago Defender, an iconic black paper centered on sharing stories of black people in America. The paper began in 1905 when black people were facing extreme oppression in the United States, and covered stories that mainstream papers ignored.
Based in Chicago, the newspaper was able to reach readers all across the country by employing black railway workers, who traveled the country for their work and were able to make an extra buck by selling bulk papers to small towns. The paper also made it easier for black people in the South to make their way up North.
“The history states about six million people moved from the Jim Crow South … but the Chicago Defender was very instrumental in having a national edition of the paper that went through the train system, through the Pullman porters.
Those were the black men that worked on these train cars of the … first class people that rode the trains. So a Pullman porter could actually make additional monies by selling the Defender in bulk to small towns along the way.
In the Defender, black people could read what cities were welcoming black people, where jobs were, what kind of opportunities for housing, how you could bring your family. They laid out the safest routes of travel.”
The prevalence of black men working on railways wasn’t just a phenomenon in the US, but happened in Canada as well. This topic was explored by On The Move co-investigator Steven High. In his article, “Little Burgundy: The Interwoven Histories of Race, Residence, and Work in Twentieth-Century Montreal,” published in Urban History Review, High looks at how employment on the railway encouraged black workers to live in a neighbourhood of Montreal known as “Little Burgundy.” However, when railway use declined and was replaced by individual vehicles, residents of the neighbourhood were displaced by a highway that was built in their community. In his article, High explores what affect this dispersion had on racialized minorities, poor whites, and the neighbourhood over time.
“Under Mayor Drapeau, the city embarked on rapid modernization with the building of highways, a Metro system, slum clearances, and an expanded city centre. Entire neighbourhoods disappeared. Little Burgundy was one of those affected the most, when much of it was razed to make way for the Ville-Marie autoroute and then a massive public housing estate. Highway construction began in 1967, resulting in the demolition of the strip between Saint-Antoine and the escarpment. Shirley Gyles recalled that “a lot of black families lived on that side of the street.” For her part, Nancy Oliver Mackenzie, a member of Union United Church, originally from Nova Scotia, drew a parallel between the highway expropriation in Montreal and what infamously happened to one black community in her home province: “They put the highway through and it’s kind of like Africville, Nova Scotia. Africville was a black area down by the water. The city just came one day and bulldozed, and people were all relocated to social housing on the Halifax side. People lost their church, their community. It was a bit like that when the highway came through. They took down a lot of places.”
For more information, check out the full article here: https://id.erudit.org/iderudit/1059112ar