Historical events

The story of black railway workers inspired by historical events told in the new drama “The Porter”

Set in the early 1920s, “The Porter” follows the journeys of train porters who hustle, dream, cross borders and pursue their ambitions in the struggle for liberation as they travel the railroads across America North. It’s a gripping story of empowerment and idealism that shines a light on when railroad workers in Canada and the United States came together to create the world’s first black labor union. Set primarily in Montreal, Chicago, and Detroit as the world rebuilds after World War I, THE PORTER depicts the black community of Saint-Antoine, Montreal, known at the time as the “Harlem of the North.”

THE PORTER follows train porters Junior Massey and Zeke Garrett and their friends and families as a tragedy at work puts them on starkly different paths to a better life and on a direct collision course with each other. One chooses to exploit the racist system by getting involved in crime and smuggling and the other wants to inspire change by forming a union. The outcome will test their friendship and their choices could put each of their lives in danger.

The series premiered on May 5and and features ensemble cast members Aml Ameen, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Mouna Traoré, Loren Lott, Olunike Adeliyi, Luke Bilyk, Sabryn, Paul Essiembre, Arnold Pinnock, Bruce Ramsay and Luc Roderique. Also starring Alfre Woodard, who also serves as an executive producer on the drama.

“The Porter” is inspired by the history of Pullman Porters. The Pullman Porters played a crucial role in the Great Migration, many helping deliver the Chicago Defender Newspaper to black residents of the south. The Chicago Defender newspaper detailed stories highlighting a better life with better jobs, housing, and opportunities in the North. Pullman Porters often sneaked Chicago Defender newspapers onto trains and delivered them to local southern businesses for distribution to southern blacks. It is estimated that between 1916 and 1970, more than half a million blacks migrated from the south to Chicago.

Intertwined in “The Porter” is a historical story of the founding of the first black labor union and the pitfalls of crime, prohibition and racism in the early 1920s. The Pullman Porters were deeply respected in the community, but faced racism and economic difficulties at work. In 1925 they formed a Union, “The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Carriers” with activist, A. Phillip Randolph as president. It was the first black union in the country. They fought for higher wages, overtime pay, fairer hours and workplace safety.

BET+’s “The Porter” not only explores a Porter’s life story, but also the families they left behind at work. The often untold story of the women behind the porters is explored in the film with complex, three-dimensional characters played by Mouna Traoré as Marlene, a black Cross nurse, Loren Lott as Lucy, a box artist by night, Alfre Woodard as a brothel owner, and Oluniké Adeliyi as Queenie, a powerful Chicago crime boss. Crime, equality, colorism, and prejudice are just a few of the hard-hitting themes depicted in the historical drama.

The Chicago defender spoke with Mouna Traore (Marlene) and Loren Lott (Lucy) about their role in ‘The Porter’ and why some of the themes from the BET+ drama still ring true today.

Watch episodes of “The carrier” on BET+.