Oregon State University
Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection

James Brooks Oral History Interview. May 8, 1983

James Brooks Oral History Interview

Interview conducted by Michael Grice.

May 8, 1983

Location:  Location Unknown.

James Brooks was originally born James Thompson in Mississippi. He moved to Portland in 1929 where his uncle, Mr. Green, was a Pullman porter. Brooks discusses the poverty at the time which made racial differences less apparent, as many white residents in the area had no jobs at all. Brooks talks about the white and black communities in Portland co-existing because the black community was not an economic or social threat to the white community. At the time, Brooks says the black population in the entire state of Oregon was only between one or two thousand persons, mostly concentrated in Portland. Brooks talks about his work as a chair car porter and the hierarchy of positions on the train, with waiters at the top and porters at the bottom. Brooks compares this hierarchy to the hierarchy of slavery where house slaves were viewed as above others, and discusses how this hierarchy continued into post-slavery life. Brooks also explains why porters suffered more abuse from passengers than waiters did, and the lack of recourse for railroad workers. Brooks describes an underground system of mentors and family-like bonds among railroad workers, even with the hierarchy.