On an overcast Saturday afternoon, more than thirty people gathered at the old Pullman Livery Stables on 112th and Cottage Grove and pinned small white ribbons to their raincoats. One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Pullman residents—and people across the country—wore similar ribbons to show their support for the workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company, who laid down their tools and walked off the job on May 11, 1894.
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Mike McMahon is a fourth-generation Pullman resident. His great-grandmother settled in Pullman in 1928. He is the president of the Historic Pullman Garden Club.
In 1995, Dr. Lyn Hughes founded the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum to commemorate the thousands of African-American men who staffed Pullman sleeping cars for more than a century, between 1869 and 1969. Twenty-three years later, Hughes is convinced that the museum’s renewed attempt to catalogue the 20,000 descendants of these men will constitute her legacy. “Long after I’m gone,” she said, “it will be in history books. It will be part of the record that nobody can take away, no matter who’s mayor, no matter who’s alderman, no matter who’s president.”
The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, which sits across from Corliss High School on 104th and Maryland, occupies a unique space both citywide and nationwide. After twenty-one years in operation, it remains the only black history museum in the country to focus specifically on labor history.
On January 11, Tom McMahon stood up to call to order a public meeting at the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center, introducing himself by simultaneously disavowing and affirming the importance of his own place in Pullman’s community: “I’m the president of the Pullman Civic Organization. I’m also a board member of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives. Tonight, I’m just the moderator, here to ask questions and address concerns raised during the last meeting.”
From their arrival in 1849 until George M. Pullman began to build his utopian Town of Pullman in 1880, the Dutch settled the Lake Calumet Region. To this day, these early settlers have left their impression on the area, and vice versa: an exhibit on Roseland is currently on display at the Eenigenburg Museum in the Netherlands commemorating those early settlement years.
On February 19, President Obama—with Mayor Emanuel at his side—announced the designation of Pullman as a National Monument to a crowd of cheering supporters at Gwendolyn Brooks Preparatory Academy. For the Emanuel campaign, the announcement was a valuable pre-election coup: “Rahm hasn’t just fought for a national park in Pullman. He’s fought for new opportunity and new jobs in Pullman and for every Chicagoan in every neighborhood,” said Obama. For residents of Pullman, who have been working to have the area recognized by the National Parks Service, the moment was the culmination of a five-decade grassroots movement to preserve the neighborhood’s rich historical and architectural value.
By this spring, a factory roof in Pullman will be home to a farm that grows up to a million pounds of pesticide-free produce a year. As 9th Ward Alderman Anthony A. Beale says, “That amount of lettuce is unreal!” When it opens up on top of eco-friendly cleaning product company Method’s new manufacturing plant, Gotham Greens’ rooftop farm will be the largest of its kind in the world. Not only will it grow produce year-round, but, along with Method’s plant, the farm will also bring close to 150 new jobs to the community. The plans are an exciting development for an area that has historically had a higher unemployment rate than the city as a whole, but they also highlight a divide between Pullman proper and the surrounding area. Continue reading