Lee Gibson, Oldest Living Pullman Porter, Dies
Lee Wesley Gibson, the oldest living Pullman porter in the country, died Saturday at age 106, the Los Angeles Sentinel and Los Angeles Times reported.
Gibson, who passed away peacefully, surrounded by family in his Los Angeles home, had just celebrated a birthday five weeks prior. His story is part of the history of men who worked on America’s railroads as Pullman porters from the 1860s through the 1970s. In the early days, becoming Pullman Porter was a sought after job for Black men, something that could boost their incomes and improve their quality of life.
Pullman cars were luxury sleeping cars used by first class rail passengers and owned by the Pullman Car Co. between 1862 and 1968. Pullman porters, which were almost exclusively Black men through most of the life of the company. In 1925, they formed the country’s first all-Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Led by A. Phillip Randolp, the union is credited with helping with the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement.
Gibson was one of the thousands of men called “George” during his workday, after the founder of the Pullman company, George Pullman.
Born in 1910 in Keatchie, La., Gibson had worked at Wiley College and Darco Corp., which made dry cleaning chemicals. He later became a presser at Moon’s Cleaners and later on purchased the business.
Years later, he moved his family to Los Angeles and started anew. He began his 38-year career on the railways when a church deacon referred him to a job working for Union Pacific Railroad in 1936. He began as a coach porter, but was eventually promoted to Pullman porter. During his tenure serving first-class passengers in sleeping cars, he traveled the country, met celebrities and provided for his family in a way that was not afforded many African Americans in those days.
“I was very happy,” Gibson told the L.A. Times in a 2010 interview. “It helped me feed my family … take care of them.”
In 1945, he bought a home in South Central Los Angeles, where he lived until his passing. He had four children with his wife Beatrice, who died in 2004.
The Pullman company was dissolved in 1968 and Pullman porters were transferred to Amtrak and Union Pacific. Gibson retired from the railways in 1974, but continued to work.
He volunteered helping passengers at Los Angeles International Airport; managed income tax preparation H&R Block; and worked as district director for the AARP tax preparation assistance program for seniors, according to the Times.
He was also a member of the historic People’s Independent Church for 77 years and attended up until the Sunday before his death.
“He raised his family in the church,” said Bishop Craig Worsham, the church’s pastor told the Times. “He is etched in the framework and fabric of the history of the church.”