Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal
In this talk, Eric K. Washington recalls a once prominent figure from a half-forgotten bygone era — when travel by train, though once luxurious, was dependent upon a legion of anonymous baggage handles. Based on his award-winning biography, Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal, Washington chronicles the world of the chief porter who organized a multitude of Harlem-based Black men into the essential labor force of America’s most august railroad station. He reveals that despite the highly racialized and often exploitative nature of the work, the Red Cap was a highly coveted job for college-bound Black men determined to join New York’s burgeoning middle class. With Washington’s biography, Williams must now be considered, along with Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jacqueline Onassis, one of the great heroes of Grand Central’s storied past.
This talk is part of HDC’s 2023 Preservation Conference series which focuses on sites of cultural significance, non-buildings, places of commemoration or trauma, and monuments and public art. How can we acknowledge and commemorate the significant history of the Red Caps within the physical space of Grand Central Terminal?Buy tickets/get more info now