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Railroads in the African American Experience



CARSON CITY, Nev. – The Nevada State Railroad Museum, Carson City will host Dr. Ted Kornweibel when he presents a fast-paced program on “Railroads in the African American Experience.” Featuring many historic photographs, it takes viewers on a rich visual tour of the black railroad heritage from slavery to Amtrak, examining the significant contributions of African Americans to the building, maintenance, operation, and profitability of the American railway system. The program takes place on Monday, May 31 at 4:30 pm at the Wabuska Depot. Regular museum admission charges apply. 

According to Dr. Kornweibel, “For over a century, railroading provided an important industrial occupation for blacks.  Brakemen, firemen, porters, chefs, mechanics, track and roundhouse laborers, car cleaners, and more—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, however.  Civil rights protests challenged railroad segregation and job discrimination; major waves of black migration to the North depended almost entirely on railroads; and railroad themes and imagery penetrated deep into black art, literature, music, and folklore.”

Unfortunately, few today recall the importance of blacks to the railroad industry, even though most black families have railroading ancestors.  The leadership and role modeling that railroaders offered to their local communities is also little known.  The presentation will encourage African Americans to search their family trees for railroaders, and will suggest ways for doing such research. 

The program is based on Dr. Kornweibel’s Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey, praised by Railroad History as “a major new work . . . destined to become a standard reference for years to come.”  The book includes 200 dramatic images and a rich text which brings to life the hundreds of thousands of blacks who toiled for decades on America’s great rail systems.  The book will be available for sale and autographed if desired. 

Dr. Kornweibel earned a Ph.D. degree from Yale University and taught African American history for 36 years.  He retired after a distinguished career at San Diego State University, having published several other path-breaking books on black history.  In the field of railroad history, he is considered an authority on the subject of African American railroaders.  And in his spare time, he directs the restoration efforts at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, where he and other volunteers are completing restoration of a segregated Jim Crow car. 

The Nevada State Railroad Museum is open Friday through Monday from 8:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum is located on Route 395 at the south end of Carson City at the intersection of Fairview Drive. For more information, please call (775) 687-6953. Admission is $5 for adults, museum members and children under 18 are free. 

The Nevada State Railroad Museum is one of seven museums of the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs.  The Department serves Nevada’s citizens and visitors through cultural and information management, presentation and promotion of cultural resources, and education. The Department also includes the State Historic Preservation Office, Nevada State Library and Archives and the Nevada Arts Council.  For more information, please call Teresa Moiola at (775) 687-8323 or visit the department’s website at www.NevadaCulture.org.

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