Welcome to the “Diversity” area of the History Center’s website. Southern Pacific has a long and proud history and much of it has been chronicled by hundreds of authors. Railroad historians and railroad historical societies have been slow to publicize the very rich history of the efforts of women, people of color, and others, including members of the LGBTQ community. The History Center’s board has agreed that these stories need to be told and this section of the Society’s website will evolve as additional narratives become available. The goal is to present the stories of the under-reported and the unrecognized Southern Pacific employees candidly, as only then can we fill in the omissions, and begin the journey to complete this part of the history of the Southern Pacific.
Over the years, the focus of the story telling primarily has been on the white men who worked for Southern Pacific, and as one views the thousands of pictures of the history of Southern Pacific that have been published in various media forms, only a small percentage of pictures of women, people of color, and others are shown. These people had stories just as compelling as the white men who held management positions at Southern Pacific. Moreover, the decision makers generally decided not to acknowledge the contributions or roles of the unrecognized and under-reported in the success of Southern Pacific.
Even more egregious, the white and male Southern Pacific managers usually decided that women, people of color, and others were to be assigned to positions that did not provide for career advancement. Over the years as I encountered members of those groups (either personally or through conversation) who had advanced to non-traditional positions at Southern Pacific, there was usually a story that they were very bright, were high-level problem solvers, had a skill set that was unmatched, had great people skills, or had a combination of some or all of these attributes. In other words, they were exceptional! And they had to be!
As proof of pigeonholing, consider the following: for a period of time, from at least 1965 through 1973 or later, the general managers and assistant general managers assigned to Southern Pacific’s Pacific Lines kept a set of 635 (in the copy I have reviewed) “management profile sheets,” one for each officer and exempt employee assigned under the operating department umbrella (outside of the San Francisco general office). I have reviewed each profile sheet, which had a photograph along with biographical information for the individual and none were women or African-Americans (there were four Hispanics, with one being an officer).
In addition, for many years Southern Pacific seldom hired women, people of color, and others who were college educated or specialty-trained for its management training program or for officer or exempt employee positions. It was only after the United States Department of Justice action in 1961 and Southern Pacific’s commitment to provide equal job opportunities on June 22, 1962, over the signatures of Vice President Lyndon Johnson and William Lamprecht, Vice President – System Operations for Southern Pacific that progress began, albeit ever so slowly.
There will eventually be three sub-sections of this area: (i) foremost, the autobiographies of former Southern Pacific employees; (ii) recollections of former Southern Pacific managers who recognized there were wrongs that should be righted and their actions to effect change; and (iii) articles about those who worked for Southern Pacific and written by family members, historians, and others. It is my hope that you will find all of the contributions inspirational and of interest.
Bill Fowler, History Center board member and longtime Southern Pacific officer.
Stories and Articles
“Story of My Ancestors Who Built the First Transcontinental Railroad” by Dr. Raymond Douglas Chong (Zhang Weiming)
“Biography of Levy Laird” by Alan Laird
“Baby on the Extra Board” by Linda Neiman
“Scattered to the Winds” by William J. Thibodeaux