Oregon State University
Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection

Willie Rice Oral History Interview, Part 1. September 1, 1985

Willie Rice Oral History Interview, Part 1

Interview conducted by Michael Grice.

September 1, 1985

Location:  Location Unknown.

Willie Rice was born in Starkville, Mississippi on December the 15th, 1921. He began working for the railroad in 1944 as a waiter. He describes having to put up with racial slurs and the threat of being fired unfairly and without recourse. He was fired from the Great Northern Railroad for refusing to buy a bottle of liquor for a white steward. Rice describes trying to work as a welder prior to the railroad and having no success due to racism. One plant hired him but demoted him to janitor, and at another plant the white workers did not want to work with him, so he had to quit join the railroad. Rice explains the amount of money made was dependent on tips, so suffering racial slurs calmly was important. He details the duties of a waiter and challenges on the job. Rice asserts that the 1971 Amtrak merger made conditions worse for employees and also notes that black employment on the trains went from 99% to less than 50% after the merger.