The First Transcontinental Railroad is the name commonly given to the U.S. railroad line (the Pacific Railroad) completed in 1869.
This iconic photo by Russell has appeared in at least two American history text books that I’ve seen. Not by way of some evil conspiracy, as far as I know, but for whatever reason it is used rather then one that was taken earlier the same day. That earlier photo shows some of the Chinese laborers that helped build the Transcontinental Railroad.
The first Chinese were hired in 1865 [sic] at approximately $28 per month to do the very dangerous work of blasting and laying ties over the treacherous terrain of the high Sierras. They lived in simply dwellings and cooked their own meals, often consisting of fish, dried oysters and fruit, mushrooms and seaweed.
Work in the beginning was slow and difficult. After the first 23 miles, Ten Miles of Track Laid in One Day, April 28, 1869.Central Pacific faced the daunting task of laying tracks over terrain that rose 7,000 feet in 100 miles. To conquer the many sheer embankments, the Chinese workers used techniques they had learned in China to complete similar tasks. China Labour, CPRR Payroll, March, 1865 They were lowered by ropes from the top of cliffs in baskets [sic], and while suspended, they chipped away at the granite and planted explosives that were used to blast tunnels. Many workers risked their lives and perished in the harsh winters and dangerous conditions.
By the summer of 1868, 4,000 workers, two thirds of which were Chinese, had built the transcontinental railroad over the Sierras and into the interior plains. On May 10, 1869, the two railroads were to meet at Promontory, Utah in front of a cheering crowd and a band. A Chinese [and Irish] crew was chosen to lay the final ten miles of track, and it was completed in only twelve hours.
Estimates vary, but it is generally thought that at least 2,000 Chinese workers died building the first transcontinental railroad. Many were buried in shallow graves next to the rail line. Picture gallery that includes some of the Chinese workers here.
Also not included in the Russel photo are any of the several hundred African-Americans that help build the transcontinental.
Labor issues like length of work day, pay and working conditions are not new, The Chinese Workers’ Strike
Chinese workers On June 25 (1867), Chinese workers left their grading work along a two-mile stretch on the eastern Sierra slope and went back to their camp. One-eyed construction chief James Harvey Strobridge lit into the men, but his bluster produced no effect. The workers demanded $40 a month instead of $35. They requested a reduction in hours. A workday on the open Sierra lasted from dawn till dusk; the Chinese laborers wanted to work no more than ten hours daily. They also asked for shorter shifts in the cramped, dangerous tunnels. Charles Crocker called in leaders of the movement and promised them he’d stop work entirely before considering a single one of their demands. The men took his message back to the camps, but still the workers refused to budge. Two days later, workers struck all along the line, and raised their wage demands to $45 a month.
[ ]…Search for Replacement Workers
In Sacramento, E. B. Crocker and another CP executive, Mark Hopkins, feared that their work would be permanently paralyzed. They advocated taking advantage of the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide African American labor from the East. Hopkins theorized, “A Negro labor force would tend to keep the Chinese steady, as the Chinese have kept the Irishmen quiet.”
Busting organized labor is also old news. Crocker and Strobridge eventually got the Chinese back to work without meeting a single demand, cutting off supplies and starving them out. The workers had to pay fines to the railroad for their behavior. Via the Library of Congress, History of Railroads and Maps. Funny how things change,
“The United States of America and the Emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects respecctively, from one country to the other, for the purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents.”
—Treaty with China, proclaimed July 28, 1868
I had already planned to do some kind of post with the Russel picture a few days ago since I hadn’t posted any historical photos for a while. This recent inanity just happened to coincide, The intellectual dishonesty of Pat Buchanan – “This has been a country built, basically, by white folks”.
The implicit argument offered by Buchanan is that African-Americans sat on the sidelines during the Civil War. The reality, however, is that by the end of the war, 10% of the Union army was black. 200,000 Union soldiers were black and 38,000 died. Moreover, at the onset of the war, much of the African-American population was enslaved.
[ ]…As the above picture shows, Buchanan’s claim is wrong. Not only did 2,000 African-Americans storm the beaches of Normandy, but 1.2 million blacks served in World War II. Moreover, it’s important to remember that during this time, black soldiers were segregated from white. So even if Buchanan’s claim were true, the reason would have been traceable to institutionalized racism, not the moral superiority of white people.
The history of people of color or non-white non-Anglo-Saxons and their contributions to the creation of the U.S. could and actually has taken up quite a few history books. Master Pat, having attended Georgetown, should know Slaves Built the White House and U.S. Capitol. One of the South’s arguments against emancipation was that without slave labor they would face economic ruin. If going without slaves would supposedly condemn the South to ruin, doesn’t that assume slaves were making a very valuable economic contribution via their unpaid labor. How would the U.S. be different if people of color has been given the opportunity to fully participate. Those stats from DK are significant especially considering those achievements in the context of the Civil War and WW II, but its easy to imagine that if we had not had such a segregated society, African-Americans and other citizens of various ethnicity would have had more opportunity to contribute. Its group behavior 101. When people feel they are a valued member of the group, most people regardless of race, national origin etc want to be part of and contribute to the success of the group.