A Train Ride to Remember

Will Bransford, circa 1900

Will Bransford, circa 1900

A colored man rode in the all-white section of a train on the way from Louisville, Kentucky to Chicago, Illinois in 1893. This was highly illegal at the time.

No one questioned him, no one suspected him, and—most importantly—no one caught him. 

The colored man, on the train, was William Bransford, the second cousin of Jerry Brandsford. Will was on his way from Kentucky to The World’s Fair in Chicago. Will said he didn’t want to go to Chicago. He didn’t have a choice. He was a slave. 

He was head guide at Mammoth Cave and he was very well-liked by his colleagues. 

He was ordered to go deep into Mammoth cave and collect artifacts and flowers to transport to Chicago. Little did Will know he would be rewarded with the train ride of a life time. 

On his way to Chicago, Will said he rode in the colored-section of the train until the train crossed the Ohio River heading north. 

Having wondered what it was like to ride in the all-white car, Will decided that he wouldn’t mind to ride up front with the white folks. 

Although William had African American running in his blood, he possessed Caucasian features that had allowed him to enter white portions of restaurants in Nashville. 

When the conductor came by to take tickets, Will handed his ticket over without saying a word. 

The conductor hadn’t said a word either. 

Will spent five months in Chicago and eventually returned, riding back in the all-white section until he reached Louisville, Kentucky. 

When the train stopped to get water for the boiler, he took his seat back with the people of color 

To this day, the artifacts Will transported can still be found in the Columbia Exhibit in Chicago. 

Will told his friends and family on the ridge that after living in Chicago and exploring the depths of 

Mammoth Cave, the most interesting thing he had ever done… was riding in that all-white car.


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