Eight black transit workers got promoted. Thousands of white workers walked off the job. – The Washington Post
The events made for a “new and different Philadelphia Story,” two National Urban League officials wrote at the time — a story with particular resonance more than 75 years later as thousands protest systemic racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody.
The black transit workers’ promotions to motormen quickly triggered a mass walkout by some 4,500 of their white counterparts. For six days that August, trolleys and buses sat idle. The subway stopped. So did one of the country’s leading wartime manufacturing centers.
Fearing an outbreak of violence, local officials summoned state police, forbade the sale of liquor and canceled a doubleheader between the Phillies and the Cubs. Even so, fights broke out across the city — resulting in 200 arrests and numerous injuries.
Many of the men and women employed in the war effort couldn’t reach their jobs on the first full day of the walkout. The federal government’s War Department announced that the strike had “seriously affected the production of radar, heavy artillery, heavy ammunition, military trucks, bombs, and other supplies vitally needed.”
Army troops seized control of Philadelphia’s transit system two days later. Hours later, a black armory worker went after the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall.