Pullman Porter, Allen Singleton, celebrates his 100th Birthday today. Allen Singleton was born February 12, 1921, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Singleton was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, with his mother Jessie McCoy Singleton and his father, Allen Singleton, Sr. He attended Lanier High School. Upon graduating, Allen Singleton became employed with the Illinois Central railroad as a Pullman Porter. In 1941 and 1942, he moved to Chicago to live with his Uncle and Aunt while still employed with the Illinois Central Railroad.
In an article with Smithsonian Magazine, Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of African American history at George Mason University, illustrates how vital Pullman Porters were to the black community.
“Despite routine discrimination, a job at Pullman had real benefits. Pullman porters were well-traveled and rubbed shoulders with America’s elites. They were what Crew calls “a conduit into what the larger society might be thinking and doing.” Crew compares the information that Pullman porters of the early 20th century circulated from their travels to doing what social media allows for today. Because they visited so many places, they could bring back recommendations, experiences, and information to the African-American community. “Train travel was a primary mode of transportation in this country up until the 1950s,” says Crew. In a time when many black men lacked mobility and steady work, Pullman porters were vital sources of community information. “Pullman porters would bring African-American newspapers like the Chicago Defender or Pittsburgh Courier back to their communities,” Crew tells Smithsonian.com. Those newspapers, he said, gave Southerners information on how and where they could escape the segregation and violence they experienced at home” .-Erin Blakemore, Smithsonianmag.com.
In 1942 he met the love of his life, Elizabeth Guyton. On January 10, 1943, they were married and lived happily for over 75 years until her death in 2018. Shortly after Allen Singleton married, he served in World War II in the army stationed in Northern Africa and Italy from 1943 to 1945.
The Singletons had three children, Alana, Allen Jr., and Dwain. While employed, he worked an extra job at St. Pius to provide for his growing family. The family moved to the southside Chatham neighborhood in 1953 despite the racial discrimination and became parishioners of St. Dorothy parish. They remain residents of the Chatham community.
Allen Singleton retired from Illinois Central in 1985. Today he says he is blessed with three grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. Mr. Singleton says despite losing the love of his life in 2018, he lives an incredibly full life and is grateful every day.
The Chicago Defender is delighted to wish Mr. Singleton a very happy centennial birthday.
To learn more about the Pullman Porters visit www.PullmanPorterMuseum.com.