NAPERVILLE — The binding threads of the card game Bid Whist are also the threads that bind the lives of African-Americans to Chicago labor history and the nation’s economic advancement.
A detailed look into the creation of Bid Whist, the rich tradition in African-American history, as well as the card games rules, variations and strategies, can be found in the recently published book, The Evolution of Bid Whist: 150 Years in the Growth of an African American Tradition. The game closely resembles Bridge or Spades.
After researching the origins and history of Bid Whist, Naperville resident Ron Allen put everything together and published his book in December 2014. Along the way, he discovered the African-American roots of this card game run deep and strong and are echoed today.
At a recent Naperville Township Democrats Organization meeting, and in honor of Black History Month, Allen discussed with members the ties between the Bid Whist and African-American history. Much of Allen’s researched focused on the Pullman Porters and other notable African-Americans.
Engineer and industrialist George Pullman designed and manufactured the Pullman sleeping car and founded the Pullman company town, near Chicago, for the workers who manufactured it. His Pullman Company also hired freed African-American men to staff the Pullman cars, who became known and widely respected as Pullman porters, providing elite service.
“The Pullman porters could travel for free or at huge discounts to any cities along the route of the railroad.” Allen explained. “This mobility enabled the Pullman porters to carry the game of Bid Whist from the south to the rest of the country.”
Because of their status as working African-Americans who also earned a decent wage — enough to put them into the middle class — the Pullman Porters established themselves as an important part of black history and were admired my many. In 1925, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, workers formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It was the first labor organization led by African-Americans to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor. The union went on to face one of the largest labor disputes in Chicago history.
While growing up on the west side of Chicago, Allen recalled playing Bid Whist with neighborhood friends. “Bid Whist took me off the streets when there was a growing increase of gangs in the neighborhood,” he said.
What started as a card game in the 1860s, played by slaves in the south, has transitioned into a rich history of diversity and pride for those who brought the game to others across the country. Those Pullman Porters who carried the game to cities along the rail road also became predominate figures in African-American history, becoming successful business owners, elected officials, doctors lawyers and military leaders.
“Diversity is a natural part of human evolution, and a gift from our Creator. Nature should be our guideline for diversity because it accomplishes beauty and harmony with the use of all the colors of the rainbow,” Allen said.