DVD cover; copyright (c) Paramount Pictures Consortium.
10,000 Black Men Named George and the March for Jobs and Freedom
I was chosen to review this 90-minute made-for-cable "dramatized" documentary, or probably flattered, because indeed I was, at the prospect of reviewing a film about ten thousand black men.
Who, me? Why not an African American? Me?
Then I wondered how I could possibly accomplish the review. So I stalled.
Then after a week I donned my headphones and sat riveted for an hour and a half and ultimately cried.
Then I wondered why a story so magnificent could have been filmed in 2002 and not spread around widely.
I was watching the story of the man who organized the 1964 March for Jobs and Freedom, thus gifting this world with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one among several invited speakers, nor did he lead off.
And much led up to that day when we celebrate freedom and justice.
Well, the armature is formulaic: long struggle uphill from obscure and condoned racist abuse to separate-but-equal, dignified autonomy, helped by FDR's election to the presidency, which enables the support of the National Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters by the A.F. of L., a guarantee of legitimacy. Jim Crow was pushed down a notch, certainly, but still chewing on his oversized cigar like the right-hand man in the struggle, the sleazy Chicagoan Milton Webster.
More specifically, in 1925, the sleeping car porters, all black, are nominally unionized in the Employes [sic] Representation Plan (ERP), but deriving no benefits from it--hugely underpaid at $60 a month, which was skimpy even for the Roaring Twenties--going without pay if the trains are not full, given no time off between train trips, and forced to absorb the plentiful abuse heaped on them by passengers, who promise tips in return for humiliation. Some passengers ride trains for this sole purpose.
The uphill battle begins as the country hovers on the brink of the Depression, bubble not burst yet--the rich are getting richer, but here's the difference between then and now: the rich had something to lose if the trains weren't full. Now the lower classes foot the bill.
The first scene portrays a debonair if not elegant porter catching a passenger in a Pullman compartment stealing towels from the bathroom into her suitcase. He politely asks her not to steal them and she demands to see the manager, to whom she lies--the towels were planted there by . . . Asa Philip Randolph. The situation is hanging when a head-on train collision solves the impasse.
In another scene, a sensual, drunk white woman lures him into her compartment, strips, and attempts seduction. One wonders how Randolph escaped as he seemed to have, intact.
The film title refers to all Pullman porters being called George, in a slimy, racist tribute to the founder and first owner of the Pullman Company, one of the largest in the country then--George Pullman. Ten thousand was the number of votes that gave birth to the new union by a landslide.