Slaves moved from the fields to the railroad jobs
not called by their name, but names they called them.
Working on the railroad was hard for blacks
they risked their lives jumping from car to car
the color of their skin ruled what they did
taking risks not really a choice, you see.
Laws kept the black man from more skilled jobs
even though they had exceptional skills.
Laying track though rough lands and tunnels too—
shovels, picks, axes, explosives were used.
Bring along the wheelbarrows, ropes, and mules
driving heavy spikes precisely trued up.
Precision was important for setting rails
no doubt any slight difference caused death.
Derailment came if not measured right
and the black man made sure others were safe.
Black prisoners had the riskiest jobs
often left to die when falling from cliffs.
Nothing to be said for their souls right then;
they considered them less than valued life,
and the way they became such laborers
did not match the crime or even confirmed.
A Pullman job was prestigious, true
but they treated them just like equipment.
Life back then, the way they treated black men,
inspired the movements of civil rights.
Sleeping Car Porters had a brotherhood
inspired by treatment of these nameless souls.
It would be many years before a change
many souls would march for their civil rights—
Randolph, King, Malcolm X to name just some
to step forth for souls until kingdom comes.
This poem was inspired from research I have done after learning of the black prisoners who lost their lives working for the railroads and the suspicious ways they came into being imprisoned. And for the treatment of railroad workers who went straight from slavery to continued enslavement, yet believing in a dream.