Did you know there was a museum dedicated to the Black union movement and A. Philip Randolph? Well, there is and it is about to celebrate 20 years. And the groundbreaking A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, based in Chicago, has partnered with the United Auto Workers (UAW) to observe the milestone.??
To commemorate this occasion, the APRPP Museum, UAW Local 551 (Union Solidarity Committee & Human and the Civil Rights Committee) will host a gala celebration on February 28th.??
The 2015 A. Philip Randolph Gentle Warrior Awards will also be awarded during the event.??
Although the museum is small, it has received more than a million visitors since Dr. Lyn Hughes founded it.??
Dr. Lyn Hughes?talks to TNJ.com about the museum and the anniversary.??
TNJ.com: What prompted you to found the museum? ??
Dr. Lyn Hughes: As a recently divorced mother of three, I was looking for income property as a strategy to pay my kids’ tuition; they were all enrolled in private schools.? Someone recommended that I look into the Pullman community for prospects. After going there and after doing my due diligence, I learned that the community was a historic district. Further exploration led me to the Hotel Florence where tours were offered, designed to inform visitors about the history of the Pullman area.??
I showed up as a participant of a group of about 15 or 20 people and I happened to be the only African American person attending. The docent went on to give a very thorough history lesson about Pullman, the town; George Pullman, the founder of the town; and about the railcar company that was also founded as well.??
As he went on, the one thing that I realized was that he had not mentioned African Americans at all. That being the case, I raised my hand and asked the question, ?Excuse me, can you tell me about the role African Americans played in the Pullman story?”??
At that point, there was an embarrassing hush that took over the room and the tour, that seemed to last forever, until he finally came back with the response: ?I believe they worked on the trains.” I thought that he was going to provide further explanation, but he did not. It was one of those awkward moments that I will always remember. I decided not to ask any further questions and, instead, made the decision that I would go to the library after the tour to see what I could find.??
I did, indeed, do just that and encountered an equally strange scenario. I asked the librarian if she could recommend any books in the collection that could tell me about the role Blacks played in the Pullman history. I was stunned when she told me that she had two. ?They were both children?s books. There was one that seemed to be at seventh-grade reading level and that is the one I chose. The title was ?A Long Hard Journey.?
I took the book home and read it. After reading it,?I found myself weeping. I had never experienced that kind of feeling from reading a book. I was disturbed because I wasn?t sure why I was having those feelings.??
After reading the book I kept hearing myself say,? ?That is a shame.? Then, I became angry because as an adult of African American heritage, I had never known about this history. More important, I had three children who had never come home and said to me, ?Hey mom, do you know who A. Philip Randolph is, do you know about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters?”??
I just could not believe that a part of history that was clearly so important was not talked about.??
I remember thinking why the docent, who gave such a very thorough and detailed account of the history of Pullman, failed to include what was clearly a major contributor to the financial success of the Pullman Rail Car company.??
I also remember thinking and saying out loud there ought to be a place that tells this part of the Pullman history.? That was a thought that just would not leave me and re-occurred regularly.??
As it turned out, I ended up purchasing three properties in the community. The strategy was that each building would pay the tuition for each of my kids.?I bought the properties and went about rehabbing them so that I could get them rented and begin to use the funds for tuition.? After completing two of the properties, something strange happened. One night I woke up from a deep sleep, sat up in my bed and heard myself say I am going to create a museum.? As they say, the rest is history.? With no history, no credentials, no experience, and not nearly enough money, I created the A. Philip Randolph National Pullman Porter Museum.??
TNJ.com: What have been some challenges over the past 20 years???
Dr. Hughes: ?The major challenges have always been the naysayers and intellectual snobbery. How dare I, someone with no credentials, establish a museum.? I was operating under the misperception that because I was doing something that was positive and that honored African-American people, the money would come.? However, the fact that I came into the area from a nontraditional experience was a major factor and it also impacted our quest for funding success.??
TNJ.com: How did you overcome these challenges? ???
Dr. Hughes: ?When your back is against the wall, you go with what you know. ?As a former entertainer, who at the core is an entrepreneur, I made the conscious decision that we would operate without grant funds.??
We approached operating the museum from that perspective. For 20 years, our operating budget has been derived solely from admission, traveling exhibits, special events, concerts, outdoor events during the summer, lectures, book signings, and facility rentals.??
TNJ.com: Many museums are having financial difficulties, how have you been able to survive? ??
Dr. Hughes: Many museums have now begun to take the approach that we have been using for 20 years so we just continue doing what we have been doing for two decades.??
TNJ.com: Tell us more about the 2015 A. Philip Randolph Gentle Warrior Awards.??
Dr. Hughes: In August of 1997, the museum began an annual event: “Honoring The Brotherhoods.” The purpose was to celebrate the founding anniversary date of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, to honor surviving Pullman Porters, and to honor the contributions of all African Americans to the American labor movement. Now in the museum?s 17th year, the event has grown in attendance and recognition.??
In 2000, The Gentle Warrior Awards component was added to the celebration. The Gentle Warrior Award is given each year to deserving African Americans who exemplify the quiet gentle warrior spirit for which A. Philip Randolph was known throughout his career. It gives recognition to African Americans in the labor movement.??
TNJ.com: What are some of your goals for the museums in 2015???
Dr. Hughes: First, secure and solidify a partnership arrangement with the National Park Service (NPS) that will allow us to promote important and compelling stories that we have been telling for 20 years on a broader scale and to a much broader audience that could only be made possible through a vehicle like a NPS; second, secure a location that will allow us to annex into a much larger location within the Pullman community that will enable us to accommodate more visitors and increase our bottom line; third, complete my succession plan that will fully prepare and equip our new director, David Peterson, who is under 40, to take the museum to the next level.