It’s 1921, the glory days of rail travel, and inside plush train cars that connect North America the passengers are made to feel like royalty. But for the Black porters who tend these floating palaces the work is backbreaking, low in pay, and without any hope of advancement.
It’s a job that grinds away at a man’s pride, and Junior Massey’s pride can only take so much. That’s why he’s running a small-time bootlegging business between Montreal and prohibition-era Chicago, right under the company’s nose. Fellow porter and best friend Zeke Garrett, much more cautious by nature, continuously warns Junior to watch his step. It’s the same warning he gives Henry, a friend and fellow porter, whose interest in the activities of famous labour organiser A. Philip Randolph is about to be put into action. But when Henry is killed on the job due to disregard for the porters’ safety, it galvanises both Zeke and Junior to move – in opposite directions. Zeke is galvanised to take on the work of improving the working conditions of the Porters, a burgeoning labour movement to win the same rights and wages given to white railroaders. But Junior distrusts his friend’s call to arms and looks to take his bootlegging sideline bigtime despite the massive risks. But at a time when Canada is backsliding into vicious Jim Crow-style segregation, and the US provides no better options, Black ambition of any kind is dangerous, and Junior and Zeke find themselves on a collision course with history – and with each other.
The Porter is a stirring, fast-paced exploration of Black empowerment and self-determination, offering a dramatic and compelling look at the lives of Porters, their families, and a community striving for success and equality. From Montreal to Chicago, and every stop in between, The Porter is the story of a movement that gave birth to the first Black union in the world.
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