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For book review: Blues Highway, a work of historical fiction


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Blues Highway is a work of historical fiction based on black men who worked the railroads as Pullman Porters. Their story shapes a family's come up during the 1950s-1990s.While Pullman Porters were once widely popularized as symbols of American luxury and service on passenger trains, their contribution toward forging a layer of black middle class prosperity is even more remarkable. In many ways, the day-to-day lives of their children, Janet and Frank, reflect larger stories of success and independence derived from a bit of derring-do.


Insightful readers will be drawn to the stories of Pullman Porters themselves, as well as the cities and black communities they help create. This book should inspire broader audiences following the launch of the Pullman National Monument in Chicago in 2020 and the explosive interest in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.




Janet grew up with a talented mother, an inventive father, and a secret road to success on Chicago’s South Side.  Frank excelled in basketball but he couldn’t escape obligations to repay a critical family debt.



The origin story of the business and railroad ties of Sidney and Frank Sr. weave a complex web of invention, deception, illicit funds and forged identity. During Sidney’s flight from Jim Crow terror, he changes his name and fortunately finds Lula as a life partner, a bond sealed by the birth of Janet, their only child. Lula leaves her singing act, known as the Brown Sugar Sisters, and starts a pie making business in Chicago. 


In their bustling barbershop, Janet comes of age in the 1970s, leaving behind her mother’s small pie selling cottage industry. Frank Jr. joins them after learning that his birth mother was once a lover to Sidney, who funded his infancy in New Orleans. Frank Jr. gives up his basketball ambitions to help pay down his family debt to Sidney. He learns the barbering trade while at the same time, Sidney schools him in how to finance the business and keep its ties to a numbers running outfit that initially invests in the shop.


 America’s history of the black men who worked the railroads as Pullman Porters and their legacy is seen in their family saga, weaving between their roots in the South and their come up during the 1950-1990s.



After my early career as a journalist at the Chicago Sun-Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Wall Street Journal and Ebony South Africa, in 2006, I began teaching History and English Literature in Oakland. I took up writing fiction and poetry with support from the Bay Area Writing Project at the University of California-Berkeley in 2013. Excerpts of this manuscript appeared in its Digital Paper.


In 2019, an early manuscript was named as a semi-finalist in Hidden River Arts inaugural Tuscarora Award for Historical Fiction. Working with Marlene Connor Literary, the manuscript has been edited, expanded and retitled Blues Highway. The novel has gotten a hearing at book signings in Chicago and at Oakland events.



Carla D. Williams


August 12, 2022--publication date





Edited by cdwilliams
mistaken duplication of text.
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  • 5 months later...

Blues Highway seems like a fascinating exploration of the lives of Pullman Porters and their families, set against the backdrop of America's complex history of race and class. It's impressive how the author weaves together the stories of the Porters, the South Side of Chicago, and the family's struggle to succeed and repay their debts.

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  • 3 weeks later...

For some reason, the review of this book reminded me of the book "Everyday Use" by the writer Alice Walker. It also presents the story of family relationships, black women, and the main character's desire to succeed. But over time, her views on the identity of African Americans have changed somewhat. You can visit this page and read more interesting summaries about daily use. It helped me uncover more details and issues I hadn't noticed after reading. I will definitely read the book "Blues Highway", and then I can compare the two books better.

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