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In a feat of remarkable research and timely reclamation Eric K Washington uncovers the nearly forgotten life of James H Williams 1878–1948 the chief porter of Grand Central Terminal’s Red Caps a multitude of Harlem based black men whom he organized into the essential labor force of America’s most august railroad station Washington r When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading sitting in front of the ac as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess it is the perfect day for a speed reader Yes it is hot and humid in Canada I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review From the publisher as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews I let them do it as they do it better than I do A long overdue biography of the head of Grand Central Terminal s Red Caps who flourished in the cultural nexus of Harlem and American railroads In a feat of remarkable research and timely reclamation Eric K Washington uncovers the nearly forgotten life of James H Williams 1878 1948 the chief porter of Grand Central Terminal s Red Caps a multitude of Harlem based black men whom he organized into the essential labour force of America s most august railroad stationWashington reveals that despite the highly racialized and often exploitative nature of the work the Red Cap was a highly coveted job for college bound black men determined to join New York s burgeoning middle class Examining the deeply intertwined subjects of class labour and African American history Washington chronicles Williams s life showing how the enterprising son of freed slaves successfully navigated the segregated world of the northern metropolis and in so doing ultimately achieve financial and social influenceWith this biography Williams must now be considered along with Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jacueline Onassis one of the great heroes of Grand Central s storied pastAbout the Author Eric K Washington is an independent historian who has held fellowships at Columbia University and the CUNY Leon Levy Center for Biography as well as the MFAH Dora Maar House in M nerbes Franceokay we get it you are smartThis was an interesting read that harkened back to the days of Civil Rights or lack thereof in days when people travelled by train Grand Central TerminalGCT is now of a commuter rail station for those millions of people who cannot afford to live in Manhattan I imagine that most major train stations of the past worldwide are now that way as well I know that Union Station in Toronto is that way The story of the Red Caps and their lives and travails was an interesting read I love GCT and people watching whilst inside is FASCINATING just ask any readerswatchers of Gossip Girl of Girl on the Train as is its history as told in this book This is a great read for lovers of NYC and anyone interested in race related history I just wish that it was kindle friendly as those books are affordable to casual readers like myself who don t want to spend 25USD33CAD on a book As always I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I love emojis outside of their incessant use by Social Influencer Millennials on Instagram and Twitter so let s give it

review å E-book, or Kindle E-pub Ð Eric K. Washington

Boss of the Grips

How the enterprising son of freed slaves successfully navigated the segregated world of the northern metropolis and in so doing ultimately achieved financial and social influence With this biography Williams must now be considered along with Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jacueline Onassis one of the great heroes of Grand Central’s storied pa I ve been trying to read non fiction and this biography was gripping pun intended It s a feel good work because of all James H Williams rose above He also helped a number of others along the way The book is about something that we as travelers take for granted This book sheds new light on Red Caps and others in the service industries I highly recommend this piece of history

Eric K. Washington Ð 9 characters

Eveals that despite the highly racialized and often exploitative nature of the work the Red Cap was a highly coveted job for college bound black men determined to join New York’s bourgeoning middle class Examining the deeply intertwined subjects of class labor and African American history Washington chronicles Williams’s life showing Boss of the Grips The Life of James H Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal by Eric K Washington is a different book than I expected Williams lived from 1878 to 1948 and he was the chief of the Red Caps in Grand Central Station His family history is one from slavery to freedom His father John Wesley Williams used the Underground RR to escape to NYC He worked hard in the hotel business Like many Black men in his era James Williams could not secure solid education but worked the hotel and related service industries like delivering flowers to gain skills abilities to interact with others as well as a reputation for being reliable Hotels and other parts of the hospitality industry needed workers and these are the jobs that were open to Black people As Washington states on p 15 John Wesley Williams recognized the hospitality trade both as an occupational plight and a lifeline Both John and his wife Lucy worked to sustain the family in an era when there were few opportunities in the city Starting at the Sturdevant Hotel in 1873 John raised a family and prepared his sons for a life in the same trade As young boys his sons worked delivering high end flowers for Thorley a relationship that would endure for years when Williams had his own position of power Cornelius Vanderbilt moved from shipping which he dominated during the Civil War to railroads He consolidated several lines and built a new depot later a station and finally the Terminal in Grand Central on 42 Street Part of his work force were attendants initially White but over time the corps of Red Caps would be Black men George Daniels the NY Central Railroad general passenger agent decided on a uniform which codified the ancient practice of livery so that passengers could readily identify these men who would help them with their baggage These new station were large so it was a long walk from the platform to the street for taxis and other vehicles James Williams was hired in 1903 but became Chief in 1909 and remained in that position for decades These men supposed pay by the RR really worked for tips Applicants had to have recommendations and clean records but Williams really groomed them to be a force Many Black men used their summer employment to attend college and Williams himself encouraged men to move into other employment especially municipal work like the police and the fire department Williams own son Wesley not only played on teams but was a Red Cap at Penn Station and studied for the fire department He joined the fire department and moved up the ranks when there were few Black people in such positions Williams encourage another Red Cap to study for the police examination and he got on the force and moved up the ranks For the Black men in the late 19th century and in the days before World War II there were few employment options thus service work is a life line and many transitioned to other occupations Some became leaders and professionals who earned left important legacies Penn Station also had Red Caps so there was some movement between the two but also their chiefs organized baseball teams and other athletes that build strength and discipline and was part of the social organizations of the Black communities especially in Harlem and the Bronx Williams established a Red Caps orchestra where many musicians honed their skills and they were able to earn additional income as well as work events for charities Thus Eric K Washington book is not just about the work but about the Black community in this era their movement from the Tenderloin to Harlem and other sections of the city and the social organizations that they built It was still the era of segregation so people might be polite as you greeted them at the station and formal gathering but this book is of a window into the Negro world World War I and the Depression were also challenging so there are efforts to supplement the little the federal and non profits did for Negro troops We know the New Deal did not immediately bring relief for Negroes so efforts were made to raised funds The fact that these groups of men were organized made a huge difference not just in their battle to improved their own employment situation but the lives of community members who were really not on the radar for most politicians at that historical moment Being a Red Cap could also be a fall back occupation when many men lost their own business during the Depression Williams would hire people who were professionals as many Red Caps had college degrees We learn this information about Pullman Porters but those who stayed in the stations giving people directions and answering uestions were also knowledgeable In the Depression Williams had to downsize his home move into the Dunbar and eventually sell his home on Strivers Row at a loss These leaders of the Red Caps were never wealthy even though they had the ears of wealthy White men Williams went far with little education but he encouraged others to attend college Like others caught in the service industry these men were well not compensated for their work They did push to organize a union since they could be members of the White union that covered people who handled baggage It is a story we know well Williams who had consistently supported individuals and causes like the NAACP had to remain silent on the matter but it did direct the press to the people they should be talking with about the plight of the Red Caps The wage hour bill in 1939 did not really help them since they had to report their tips and conseuently there was a limit on what they could earn in a day Yet their organizing was strong and people developed in various ways What was fascinating was learning the history of the first Black person to become a fireman the first on the police force and many of them came from the Red Caps Progress was slow and during this time period of the beginning of World War II men saw that they could get an education and not use it These barriers would slowly come down at various rates around the nation The leadership of A Phillip Randolph and others who pushed for the March on Washington in 1941 really made a difference in some places In this era many race leaders were pushing for rights on many fronts and the war was an opening Yet the stories are hard when the Red Caps Barbershop uartet wins the New York state wide competition and then cannot compete in the nationals in Missouri since the organization does not want to upset their southern friends Talented people could not compete with their team because of race yet you can also see how many White people in the 1940s recognize these injustices Williams dies in 1948 but was remember by many It is nice that Eric Washington did the enormous research and produced this book The work for racial progress that took places early in the 20th century is not appreciated enough I m glad that I have knowledge of the many people in Harlem and other parts of the city who worked not only to support themselves but to enhance the lives of others


10 thoughts on “Boss of the Grips

  1. says:

    Let me start by saying that this really isn't a biography of James Williams but rather an overall look at NYC during the time period of 1920 50s Although Mr Williams appears throughout the book the author concentrates on s

  2. says:

    When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading sitting in front of the ac as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess it is the perfect day for a speed reader Yes it is hot and humid in Ca

  3. says:

    “Boss of The Grips” tells of the life and times of James H Williams who was the Chief Attendant of the Red C

  4. says:

    Good story

  5. says:

    Boss of the Grips The Life of James H Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal by Eric K Washington is a different book than I expected Williams lived from 1878 to 1948 and he was the chief of the Red Caps in Grand Central Station His family history is one from slavery to freedom His father John Wesley Willia

  6. says:

    This will be a somewhat odd review written in the midst of worldwide protests about police brutality and racism I struggled w this book having been interested in New York City history than the history of this particular individual and his family I finished it however It was written w scrupulous detail and in a nice readable tone It stuck with me somehow Today I found myself tweeting about it to a certain Professor Charles Negy w

  7. says:

    Chief Williams is an African American community hero His parents were born into slavery and escaped this evil past and moved to NY Chief Williams’ Red Cap Department employed a higher percentage of college men than any other department in Grand Centraol Station Blacks could only work as Red Caps or Porters in Grand Central Station He gave a helping hand to young men striving to improve their lives through hard work Helped men

  8. says:

    A part of NYC transportation history I was not at all familiar with Definitely wish I'd had it when I was working on my own train history book project Around the turn of the century nearly all of the Red Cap porters were Black They helped passengers with their bags at Grand Central Station Some earned tips The story of this group of workers

  9. says:

    I've been trying to read non fiction and this biography was gripping pun intended It's a feel good work because of all James H Williams rose above He also helped a number of others along the way The book is about something that we as travelers take for granted This book sheds new light on Red Caps and others in the service industries I highly recommend this piece of history

  10. says:

    This book and its subject seemed fascinating The introduction was engaging but went downhill uickly Some of the historical