Frank Boyd: An uncompromising labor leader
By Art McWatt 28 March 2007
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Union Advocate newspaper as part of its centennial series in 1997.
St. Paul, Minnesota, has spawned many outstanding labor leaders but few could match the dedication of Frank Boyd, an African-American, who was born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1881. Frank received his early education there and after his mother's death in 1894, he left home to make his way north.
|For the next decade, he worked at odd jobs in both Kansas and Nebraska before deciding to come to Minnesota. He arrived in St. Paul in 1904 and found work as a porter in a Black barber shop. He worked there for three years before deciding to try working as a Pullman porter for the Northern Pacific Railroad.
His proclivity for organizing began when he joined the Waiters and Porters Association where he was its major recruiter. Its president, M.D. Pettis, described the association's purpose as one which, "cared for its sick and buried its dead."
|This bust of Frank Boyd is in St. Paul's Boyd Park, the only park in the city named after a labor leader.
Boyd's labor organizing really began in 1911 when he discovered that porters were distributing petitions around the country to raise the wages of Pullman porters. Boyd immediately began trying to persuade St. Paul porters to join the cause. It was an attempt to raise porter's wages from $25 to $50 after two years of service. The Pullman Company quashed the effort by raising wages by $2.50 a month. For the first time, Boyd was branded by the Pullman company as a ''trouble-maker."
During the war years, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul porters came together to form the Railroad Mens' Industrial Association. Boyd helped to organize the local in St. Paul. The local elected George Shannon its president and Augustus Jones as its executive secretary. The movement was helped
during this period by the tacit approval of the federal government's labor policies.
After the war, Boyd was instrumental in the organization of a branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union in St. Paul. The fraternal organization began its formation in New York City in 1919. A.W. Jordan was elected president of the St. Paul branch. Frank Boyd was chosen as its delegate to the Chicago convention that October.
A. Philip Randolph takes lead
With A. Philip Randolph's acceptance of leadership of a newly formed Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in the summer of 1925, Boyd finally realized his dream. By August, he had organized a group of St. Paul porters to form Local 3.
His efforts did not go undetected by Pullman authorities and shortly after his efforts became known, he was called into the office of his District Superintendent, A.W. Healy, and was warned him that his job was in jeopardy. The following month he was called in again and told that if he persisted in his organizational efforts he would be "dealt with accordingly."
On January 13, 1926, Local 3 held its first meeting at the Welcome Hall Community House, located on Farrington and St. Anthony Streets. President Paul Caldwell chaired the meeting and Boyd was elected Secretary-Treasurer. Over 50 men and their wives were in attendance. Most of the wives were members of the Womens Council, which had been formed in conjunction with the men's local. A council member often held a Brotherhood meeting while her husband was "on the road," so no blame could come to him for "unionizing activities." The Council women also organized fundraising events to raise money for office expenses and provided their husbands with moral support to help them maintain their memberships.
Boyd was fired during that first meeting. When he attempted to regain his job by appealing to Rule #9, Section #3, Code # 9151 under the Pullman Porters Protection Association's Charter, he failed. He did this to demonstrate to his men that the P.P.P.A. was merely a company union.
He was forced to look for work and finally found a job at Armour's Meat Packing Plant in South St. Paul. He needed this to support his wife, Annie, and his son, Artie.
Demands a living wage
Boyd's first project as secretary-treasurer was to circulate a petition to send to the Interstate Commerce Commission, demanding that they compel the Pullman Company to ban tipping and to pay porters a living wage. The Commission ruled by a 4 to 3 vote that they did not have the jurisdiction to do that. Boyd continued to build his division and the Pullman Company retaliated by firing all those connected with his organizing efforts.
During the years of the Depression, Pullman porters generally fared better than the majority of the Black workers because their work was steady. Though the wages were low, extra effort could increase your tips. In 1930, Boyd was particularly upset when Pullman Porter, K.W. Wilkes, of Kansas City, was killed merely because he held a steady job. Boyd called for a Local # 3 meeting to protest Wilke's death and took up a collection to send to his widow.
Good news came to the Brotherhood, in 1934, when it finally was allowed to became a member of the American Federation of Labor. The following year was even better when the Brotherhood gained collective bargaining rights. It resulted in back payment of over $1 million to the porters and long overdue pay increases.
Boyd continued to work hard during the late '40s and mainly through his efforts Local 3 grew to over 700 members.
He held the Pullman Company to its contract provisions and fought for porters who had grievances. He was remembered by the National office on June 15, 1951, at a banquet in St. Paul honoring the Brotherhood's Silver Anniversary. Randolph presented him with a check for $2,000 and congratulated him for his success as an organizer. Randolph turned to him and said, "You have been a true revolutionist and will go down in labor history as a great organizer and an inspiration the men of Local 3." It was Boyd's finest hour as he admired Randolph more than other person in the world. Boyd had previously been honored by being appointed to the Brotherhood's International Executive Board.
With the increased use of air and bus travel, the number of Pullman passengers began to decline after the mid '50s and by 1961, only 3,000 porters had regular runs.
Due to failing health, after the death of his wife, Boyd went to California to live with his son. He died there on May 2, 1962. His body was returned to St. Paul and he was committed to his grave by the Reverend Floyd Massey of Pilgrim Baptist Church. He was interred in Elmhurst Cemetery.
In 1987, a park on Selby Avenue and Virginia Street was dedicated in his honor for a life of courage, sacrifice, dedication and service to the cause of labor. It is the only public monument to a labor leader in the city of St. Paul.
Arthur McWatt taught for 33 years in the secondary schools of St. Paul. He received his M.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1969. He has been writing about African-American history for more than 10 years.