Book Talks

Virtual Book Talk – Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and The Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal


When: Tuesday, November 16, 2021, 7:00 - 8:00 pm ET

Event Location: YouTube Live

Cost: Suggested Donation

Join us on YouTube Live for a free virtual book talk with Eric K. Washington, historian and author of Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal. He’ll be joined in conversation with Ginger Adams Otis, former NY Daily News editor and author of Firefight: The Century-Long Battle to Integrate New York’s Bravest.

Eric K. Washington calls James H. Williams “part of the central nervous system of the Harlem Renaissance”. Yet somehow, Williams’ life and achievements have been nearly forgotten. Born to formerly enslaved African American parents in 1878, Williams “broke the color line” of Grand Central’s white, Red Cap attendants upon his hire in 1903. The Red Caps; a balance of porter, escort and guide of the city, seamlessly ushered guests to and from trains with limited visibility. In 1909 Williams became the chief attendant of Grand Central Terminal, the first and most notable Black American officer, a position he would hold until his death. Highly visible, Williams became a celebrity and legend in his own right, commanding the respect, esteem and confidence of the twentieth century’s elite. Under his leadership and influence, the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal became a workforce employing hundreds of Black American men, at a time when Black Americans had to fight for job opportunities. A highly coveted and stable position, innumerable Black men advanced, finding ambitions for themselves and for the community within Harlem.

While this program is free, you can donate to support future programming from the Tenement Museum here

Purchase Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal at the Tenement Museum shop!

This program will continue to be available on our Youtube channel following the LIVE screening.

Support for this program is provided by ConEdison and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.