Larry Tye has written a fascinating book Rising From The Rails which gives the history of black railroad porters and the profound influence they had as a result of what they learned from their contact with white passengers. They picked up the newspapers or books the passengers left on the train and read them. They listened to conversations about business, education and the affairs of people and applied the lessons in their own families. Their good influence had a ripple effect among the black community and they were responsible for many good things as a direct result of their employment. Tye interviewed retired porters all over the country and wrote this book with their wisdom and stories.
He says what they saw and read changed them. Made them determined that their child would get the formal learning they didn’t have and the passengers did have. They wee keen observers. The noted their manners and their vocabulary. One porter told the author:
"I don’t know if you ever heard about the three "Ls, because L stands for so many things. But these three Ls was ‘Look, Listen and Learn.’" and the porters applied the "the three L’s" to their work.
The explains tipping was imported from Europe where customers handed waiters with coins and a note "To insure Promptness." Over time this was abbreviated to "tip."
In describing the accomplishments of porters he notes that Matthew Henson was an ex Pullman porter who was at Robert E. Peary’s side in 1906 when Peary reached the North Pole. Henson died in obscurity after retiring on a pension of only one thousand dollars a year. In 1988 his remains were dug up and moved next to Peary’s at Arlington National Cemetery. Later he was featured on a U.S. postage stamp.