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Arthur Burton, Sr.

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.

Accession Number

A2002.069

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/18/2002

Last Name

Burton

Maker Category
Middle Name

T.

Occupation
First Name

Arthur

Birth City, State, Country

Winterville

HM ID

BUR08

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

California

Favorite Quote

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Boy, boy, boy.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Arizona

Birth Date

9/10/1903

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Phoenix

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Corn

Death Date

3/25/2005

Short Description

Pullman porter Arthur Burton, Sr. (1903 - 2005 ) was over 100 years old, and a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Employment

Pullman Company

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

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

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Arthur Burton describes the tireless hours he worked as a Pullman Porter
Arthur Burton talks about A. Philip Randolph
Transcript
Now, being a porter [Pullman Porter], was it hard work?$$Hard work?$$Yeah, was it hard work being a porter?$$(Chuckle) I wave my hand at you, talking about hard work. That's about the hardest job you could ever get on, was on those cars. You take--you got--you're supposed to get four hours sleep a night, between the two cars, that are traveling like that. One will go down, 10:00 o'clock, I think till 2:00 and the other 2:00 to 6:00 to get that sleep, see. And nine times out of ten, you supposed to be in the bed at 10:00, you making beds because a lot of people that had rooms, see, call you at different times for you to come make their rooms for them to go to bed. Your time for you to go to bed is there when they calling you to make their beds.$$Okay, I get it, I get it.$$Boy, oh, boy. Boy, oh, boy, oh, boy, oh. Boy.$$So you only were allowed four hours of sleep a night?$$Four hours, yeah, four hours, but you didn't get that. A lot of the time, you didn't get that because the thing of it is, you may lose two of them hours before, you know, you get a chance to get through with your work to go to bed. So like you say, supposed to be four hours sleep you get, but you didn't get that far as that concerned. That's a, that's a--that, that was, look like one of the most killing jobs there ever was, was porter, on a Pullman car, one of the most killing jobs that you could ever want to, ever want to be on.$Okay, now, Mr. Burton, sir, okay, we were talking about the union, and A. Philip Randolph, and--A. Philip Randolph and the union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, right. And what role did you play in that? Were you a voting union member? Did you get active in the union? Were you active?$$Active.$$Yeah, in the union?$$Yeah, yeah.$$Okay.$$Yeah, yeah, in fact, I knew good and well that was the only salvation was left was to get in the union with him because you see the, the thing of it is, the Pull Comp--Pullman Company treat you like (unclear), see. And naturally, when he came in like that, he changed all that stuff. They have you deadheading from here to Los Angeles [California] or something, see, and put you up there on a car like that and don't see to you getting something up there to eat, you know. In other words, they supposed to wire ahead to Fred Harvey to have so many box lunches out there for the porters, you know. Heck, they put you up there and wouldn't get no box lunches for you or nothing, and that's when I would always carry stuff in the bag. I even got the blue bag now, wherever, around here somewhere that I would get stuff and put it in there because when they didn't stop for me to get something to eat, I had something in that bag. Boy, oh, boy.$$Now, you said you met A. Philip Randolph, you met him, right?$$Huh?$$What kind of person was A. Philip Randolph like? What kind of man was he? You met him, right?$$Oh, very--he was, he was a powerful leader. And naturally, see, he was in the position that when they did something wrong to you, to call this meeting, and see to you getting your justice out of it, see, because, you know, they know good and well that, that they wasn't treating you right. That's the, that's, just like you supposed to get your two hours, three hours sleep or something, naturally, he don't give it to you, you know. He see to you getting it. Boy, oh, boy, oh, boy.$$What did he look like?$$Huh, Randolph?$$Yeah.$$He was a nice-looking man. He was a nice-looking man, brown skinned man, very nice-looking man.$$Was he tall or short or what?$$No, he wasn't (unclear) as he is, but he, about his height I think and kind of slender, slender man.