When President Barack Obama travels to Chicago on Feb. 19 to name the Pullman area on the city’s Far South Side a national monument, the event will be steeped in historical meaning for the once-thriving Black community, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago’s Pullman District community, 13 miles south of the Downtown area, was the nation’s first model industrial town built in 1880 to attract skilled workers to the Pullman Palace Car Company, which invented train sleeper cars, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Many of the now-defunct company’s maids and train porters were Black men and women, who served a mostly White clientele, mirroring the white-black slavery dynamic in the U.S.
But the well-tended leafy community also had a historic connection to the first all African-American union in the country—the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was organized by A. Philip Randolph. The Tribune reports:
A strike at the factory in 1894 triggered the country’s first industrywide walkout and resulted in several worker deaths at the hands of U.S. marshals and the military.
But the community fell into slow decline and disrepair as new modes of transportation became popular, the Tribune notes:
The district has many homes in good condition but suffers from age, blighted sections and the effects of a 1998 arson on the factory grounds. More than a year ago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the 300-acre Pullman district one of its 35 national “treasures,” signifying a commitment to preserve the area.
Obama previously has used his authority under the Antiquities Act 13 times to preserve sites including the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in California, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, the official said.
The timing of the president’s visit to Chicago could serve as a boon for Mayor Rahm Emanual—his former chief of staff—who is trying to win key Black votes in the city’s upcoming election, the Tribune notes:
Obama’s visit [ Feb. 19] will come just five days before the mayoral election and the designation for Pullman figures to offer a boost to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff, among South Side voters he has been wooing throughout his campaign.
Emanuel and members of Congress from Illinois will be on hand for Obama’s visit, the White House official said.
The Pullman community is steeped in history and we’re happy that it’s getting the recognition it deserves.