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TV Preview: Cable film stars Braugher in story of Pullman porters

Sunday, February 24, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- In Showtime's "10,000 Black Men Named George" (airing at 8 tonight), the title alone speaks to the humiliation of black Americans who worked as Pullman porters in the early part of the 20th century. Many white passengers referred to all black porters as "George," as if they were the namesake of railway company owner George Pullman.

Andre Braugher portrays Asa Philip Randolph in "10,000 Black Men Named George." He was also executive producer for the Showtime movie.

That alone makes this story of the formation of the first black union more than an ode to organized labor. Starring Andre Braugher as socialist labor leader Asa Philip Randolph, the film shows the links between the creation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the later rise of the civil rights movement.

"You can't separate the phenomenal birth of unionism in the United States of America from the Pullman porters," Braugher said at a Showtime news conference last month. "This same small group of men, who grew to be 10,000 strong, was also the organizational foundation for the civil rights movement and all of the gains that were made in the '40s and the '50s. That, and the black church."

Working as a porter was a double-edged sword for black men of the '20s and '30s, Braugher said. On the one hand, they were looked up to within their own community, but they were looked down upon by the customers they served.

One scene in the film shows a porter politely informing a white passenger that towels are the property of the Pullman company after he sees her stuff them in her suitcase. She rants and raves, ultimately accusing him of planting the towels in her suitcase himself.

"10,000 Black Men
Named George"

When: 8 tonight on Showtime.

Starring: Andre Braugher, Mario Van Peebles, Charles S. Dutton.


"You could point to [Pullman porters] on a regular basis, and you could uniformly suggest that they were very highly educated, circumspect, well-trained, discreet, personable men," Braugher said. "The unfortunate part about their work experience is that they were in a uniformly degrading work environment, that their wages were astronomically low in comparison to the amount of money that could be earned in other industries for white participants and that their working conditions were oppressive."

Furthermore, because it was one of the more prestigious jobs a black man could hold at the time, people who otherwise could have been trained as doctors or lawyers were "essentially funneled toward this one industry."

"10,000 Black Men Named George" also stars Mario Van Peebles as a Pullman employee who approaches Randolph about forming the union. They're joined in that pursuit by Chicago porter Milton Webster (Charles S. Dutton). The film was directed by Robert Townsend ("Hollywood Shuffle," "The Five Heartbeats").

For Braugher, who's best known for his starring role on the critically lauded "Homicide: Life on the Street," "10,000 Black Men Named George" marked his first time as executive producer on a TV project. It's a credit he said will be essential when he returns to series television.

"It's only when you're privy to the conversations and a member of the production team that you can direct the course of a series and make sure it flourishes."

Braugher certainly knows the opposite of that from his year on ABC's "Gideon's Crossing," a medical drama that was canceled last May after a single season.

"It was a disastrous season for ABC in which they came out of that season with none of the [new] shows they started with, comedy or drama," Braugher said. "No one made it out of ABC unscathed."

A lesson he learned: "Once your network has lost confidence in you, you're headed for the dustbin of history ... but without a doubt, I'm looking forward to getting back involved with a series."

He's even got something in development, which he wouldn't talk about, except to describe it as a "human comedy."

Reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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