The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Arthur Burton, Sr.

Share on Social Media

Information about Arthur Burton, Sr.

Profile image of Arthur Burton, Sr.

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
Occupation(s):
Pullman Porter

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Corn
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
California
Favorite Quote:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Boy, boy, boy.

Birthplace

Born:
9/10/1903
Birth Location:
Winterville, Mississippi

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
Occupation(s):
Pullman Porter

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Corn
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
California
Favorite Quote:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Boy, boy, boy.

Birthplace

Born:
9/10/1903
Birth Location:
Winterville
See how Arthur Burton, Sr. is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Arthur Burton, Sr., one of the Pullman Porters was born September 10, 1903, in Winterville, Mississippi. Burton was the oldest of five children. When Burton's mother, who ran a small store, died when he was twelve years old, he accompanied his father to Earl, Arkansas for construction work. His father was a carpenter and Burton helped him build "shotgun houses," small shacks in which one could look through the front door and see straight through to the back.

One Saturday, dressed in his favorite shirt, Burton with the other youngsters "flipped" a train. Burton, who had not mastered the technique, jumped off at the wrong time and was flung down an embankment severely lacerating his head and cracking his skull. He carried a deep scar in his head for the rest of his life. Burton finished grade school when he was in his twenties.

In 1930, he was hired by The Pullman Company and was soon assigned to the Santa Fe Super Chief, California Limited, and the Scout, among others. Being a porter consisted mostly of making beds and cleaning up, but what was most difficult was the way Pullman treated the black porters. Often management would forget to feed porters not adjacent to dining cars. The hours were also grueling. Porters were officially allowed four hours of sleep a night. Working twenty days a month, Porters would average about two hours of sleep a night. The pay was about half that of factory workers. These factors and the blatant disrespect by management and the public, who referred to all porters as "George" caused them to organize behind A. Phillip Randolph in 1924.

Ten years of struggle yielded victory on August 21, 1935. Burton, now living in Chicago, was a member of the Union of Sleeping Car Porters and drove local leaders to and from headquarters at 43rd and Michigan Avenue. Burton was a porter for thirty-eight years and six months. He met celebrities like Gloria Swanson, Bob Hope, Buck and Bubbles, Jack Benny and Eddie Rochester Anderson. Burton was proudest of the fact that with his own hands, he built his own house and that of his son; author Arthur Burton, Jr. in Phoenix, Illinois.

Burton passed away on March 25, 2005 at age 101.

See how Arthur Burton, Sr. is related to other HistoryMakers
Loading...
Click Here To Explore The Archive Today!
  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Arthur Burton's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Arthur Burton lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Arthur Burton describes his family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Arthur Burton describes an accident he had while trying to "flip" a train
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Arthur Burton talks about building two homes
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Arthur Burton talks about the irony of his train accident
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Arthur Burton talks about receiving his eight grade diploma
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Arthur Burton talks about seeing white people working in cotton fields for the first time
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Arthur Burton describes his parents' occupations
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Arthur Burton describes his favorite childhood foods
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Arthur Burton describes growing up in Winterville, Mississippi
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Arthur Burton talks about using a primer and learning his ABC's in school
  • Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Arthur Burton talks about moving to Earl, Arkansas and his accident "flipping" a train, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Arthur Burton talks about moving to Earl, Arkansas and his accident "flipping" a train, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Arthur Burton describes why he lied to the doctor about his train accident
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Arthur Burton talks about trying to shoot wild ducks in Winterville, Mississippi
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Arthur Burton talks about terrorizing his little brother during a flood in Winterville, Mississippi
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Arthur Burton talks about his pet calf, Logan
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Arthur Burton talks about moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Arthur Burton talks about moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Arthur Burton talks about the sandlot baseball people played in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Arthur Burton describes how a boy died "flipping" a freight train in Earl, Arkansas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Arthur Burton recalls witnessing a murder in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Arthur Burton describes his experiences working for a white man in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Arthur Burton talks about what he is thankful for
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Arthur Burton describes how he became a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Arthur Burton describes his first train routes as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Arthur Burton describes what "deadhead" means in train terminology
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Arthur Burton describes the smell of a train and his first time seeing a black female train engineer
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Arthur Burton describes the tireless hours he worked as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Arthur Burton talks about the time he spent away from home as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Arthur Burton describes his responsibilities as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Arthur Burton describes the dangers of being a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Arthur Burton talks about getting caught in a flood on one of his train runs as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Arthur Burton describes how he avoided being drafted into the U.S. Army during WWII
  • Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Arthur Burton describes what it was like being a Pullman Porter before the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
  • Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Arthur Burton talks about A. Philip Randolph and Milton Price Webster
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Arthur Burton talks about A. Philip Randolph
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Arthur Burton talks about Milton Price Webster and the Chicago headquarters of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Arthur Burton talks about famous individuals he encountered as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Arthur Burton describes segregated Pullman train cars
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Arthur Burton describes his favorite train route, the Santa Fe Super Chief
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Arthur Burton talks about the Pullman mail train
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Arthur Burton describes the difference between steam and diesel train engines
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Arthur Burton describes how Pullman Porters signaled one another
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Arthur Burton talks about his length of service as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Arthur Burton talks about having to watch the train passengers' children
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Arthur Burton describes why some Pullman Porters were fired
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Arthur Burton talks about the Richmond Boys
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Arthur Burton comments on the significance of receiving a pension from the Pullman Car Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Arthur Burton talks about retiring as a Pullman Porter
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Arthur Burton talks about meeting his wife and getting married
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Arthur Burton talks about meeting his wife and getting married
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Arthur Burton talks about his love of fishing and frogs
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Arthur Burton shares his thoughts on young people
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Arthur Burton talks about how he would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Arthur Burton talks about the importance meeting people with unique experiences
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Arthur Burton's son, Turk Burton, narrates his photographs