The Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum will open a new exhibit on Saturday, February 2, in celebration of Black History Month. The exhibit, called “Tracks Through Black History,” will highlight the many contributions that African Americans have had on the railroad throughout its history.
The history of American railroads cannot be separated from black history. For over a century, railroad companies provided the most important industrial occupation for blacks. Gandy Dancers, porters, chefs, mechanics, laborers — African American men and women have been essential to the daily operation and success of American railroads.
The connections between railroads and African Americans extend well beyond employment. Civil rights protests beginning in the late 19th century challenged railroad segregation and job discrimination. The major waves of black migration to the North depended almost entirely on railroads and the jobs they provided. The railroad played such a major role in black heritage that it can be seen prevalently in black art, literature, drama, folklore, and music.
The Railroad & Heritage Museum’s exhibit will illustrate how black Americans contributed to America’s great rail systems. From Gandy Dancers, who maintained the rails, to the Pullman Porters, who served travelers, entrants into the museum will experience the social, cultural, political, and economic influence railroads had on the black community. Part of the exhibit will also highlight the cultural influence of the railroad as it relates to the music of Ragtime composer, Scott Joplin, whose work – like others – was deeply influenced by the railroad.
Few today recall the importance of blacks to the American railroad industry, even though most black families have railroading ancestors. These stories of hardship and heroism, exploitation and endurance, anger and artistry illuminate a rich heritage and fascinating chapter in American history.
The exhibit will open on Saturday, February 2, and will remain on display through the end of March. A Family Day will also be held on January 26, in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Activities planned for that day include story time, creating a Peace Blanket, and sharing MLK’s birthday cake.
For more information about this exhibit or Family Day activities, please contact the museum office at 254-298-5172.