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A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum uses hip-hop to teach youth

Vintage phothree members Brotherhood Sleeping Car Porters from gallery A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

Vintage photo of three members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters from the gallery of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

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Updated: March 17, 2013 6:21PM

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was one.

So was black nationalist Malcolm X.

Both held Pullman porter jobs along their upward trajectories into history books.

But Lyn Hughes, founder of Chicago’s small but renowned A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, notes too few young people today know that trivia or the history of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, America’s first chartered black labor union.

Housed in one of the Historic Pullman District’s original rowhouses built in 1880 by rail car titan George Pullman, the 18-year-old museum at 104th and Maryland is working with youth in the inner city to impact that historical deficiency.

Its program, “Museum 44: Where Hip Hop Meets History ,” immerses youth in black history through music, poetry and art as a violence prevention tool.

“We have a very clear understanding of how the medium of hip-hop reaches young people. We are using that vehicle to enlighten young blacks about their history — talking to them in their language, from their perspective,” Hughes said.

The museum, home to one of the nation’s largest collection of photos, family artifacts and personal memorabilia from the black labor movement — a precursor to the civil rights movement — hosts its annual fund-raiser at the Marmon Grand on Sunday in support of “Museum 44,” named for the 44th president — Barack Obama.

Organized in 1925 by civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph to take on the powerful Pullman Rail Car Co., the porters union battled long hours and scant pay for attendants on Pullman’s luxury sleeping cars, winning recognition in 1937.

As a law student in the early ’30s, Marshall worked as a porter for $50 a month, while Malcolm X washed dishes as one and served food on trains in the early ’40s.

The sacrifices endured by such black icons increasingly are lost on youth, says Hughes, pointing to rapper Lil Wayne’s denigration of another icon, Emmett Till, in rap lyrics. The lyrics were dropped after controversy erupted this week.

“Their history isn’t taught, their awareness is only enforced one month a year,” Hughes said. “If it is ongoing, if you continue to learn about where you came from, the richness of your history and strength of character of your people, then those subliminal messages — the ones that tell you you’re worthless, you came from nothing, you’ll never amount to anything — won’t fall on fertile ground.”

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