Friday, January 17, 2014

African American workers on the first transcontinental railroad

From: "Samuel Lilley"

African Americans were a small portion of the workforce. I was just wondering why. When they spent money to import Chinese people?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Possibly because that matched the demographics of California in the 1860's, with a sizable Chinese population, and few African Americans. Obviously, building the transcontinental railroad was prior to there being an easy way to get across the country, so transporting people from China might not have been any more difficult than from the Eastern United States. Also, not sure how mobile the African American population was prior to and after slavery was abolished in the 1860's.

1/17/2014 11:25 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

The answer is really fairly simple.

First, the numbers of African Americans in California and the Far West in the 1860's were miniscule compared to the Chinese, thousands of whom had come over during the Gold Rush with the same intent for "easy riches" that so many others – foreign or native-born – came to California.

Secondly, California then (and for a long time after) was hardly welcoming to blacks and was rife with pro-Southerners, a matter that severely hampered politics in the state up through the presidential elections that introduced Abraham Lincoln to the newly formed Democratic-Republican Party ticket.

One more reason for importing Chinese laborers: cost. It was less expensive to work with existing Chinese tongs in San Francisco to import men by the shipload from Imperial China (eager to get rid of its severely poor men and boys) to serve as paid laborers. The presumption then was that the Chinese brought in would probably want to leave soon after the Pacific Railroad's completion, but things turned out otherwise as we can easily see in retrospective.

The CPRR's Chinese workforce turned out to be far better workers than Charles Crocker or his cohort expected and proved invaluable to pushing CP extensions south and west from Sacramento to Oakland, and thereafter through the 1870's as the CP's stepchild Southern Pacific Railroad began its grand expansion through Central and Southern California to the Great Southwest and, ultimately, New Orleans. The Chinese also went to work extending CP's line to Oregon and some also worked for smaller independent railroads and commercial bridge and tunnel-building companies well into the 1890's even though anti-Chinese legislation on the Pacific Coast and in Washington D.C. attempted to turn them out of the U.S. and even British Columbia which sponsored equally onerous anti-Chinese legislation. Despite these harsh laws, the hardy Chinese set up strong communities in the larger West Coast cities and thereby rooted themselves into the American (and Canadian) multi-cultural tapestry.

—Kevin Bunker, Oakland, CA

1/18/2014 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the gold rush, the organization needed to transport Chinese to California was put in place (the Chinese Six Companies), while there were no similar existing companies to organize transport of African Americans to California.

1/18/2014 3:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages