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 during the height of the Jim Crow Era in the South.

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 Bransford. 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 on his way to becoming the senior guide of Mammoth Cave and who could better tell story of the cave.

Will was very well-liked by his colleagues and would later become the head guide in 1917. He was sent deep into Mammoth Cave to 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 riding up front with the white folks.

Although William had been born a slave in 1866, at the end of the Civil War, he possessed Caucasian features that had already allowed him to enter white’s only sections 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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