Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Q: I had seen that the museum received a donation from the American Pickers. What
was the Union News Company?
~ E. Martin
Big Rapids, Mi
A: The Union News Company (1870s-1969) was mostly known for its news and print services. The company also operated several small stands at many train stations, bus stations, steamship docks, and airports. The stands sold books, magazines, newspapers, tobacco products, and other items. The Union News Company employed “Newsies” (news boys) to sell newspapers to travelers while the transportation vehicles were in-between boarding and un-boarding.
The Union New Company expanded their services to restaurants and lunch counters at the stations. It was not uncommon for the lunch counters and restaurants to have segregated areas. In fact, most of the terminals in the South already had separate waiting areas for white and Black travelers.
In 1951, a state-of-the-art Greyhound bus terminal was opened in Birmingham, Alabama. An article in The Birmingham News called it “one of the nation’s finest depots.” The article highlighted the high ceilings, spacious lobbies, tile floors, loading zones, the murals on the walls, and the “comfortable, solid oak benches” that could seat 156 white customers in the waiting room, while African American travelers were given 44 spaces in the “Negro lobby.” The article went on to emphasize the modern cafeteria with stainless steel equipment, lunch counter, and newsstand that was available to white customers 24 hours a day. The “Negro section” also had a lunch counter and a newsstand, operated by the Union News Company (Birmingham News).
In 1953, the NAACP filed a complaint with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) against 11 railroads, the Richmond, Va., Terminal company, and the Union News Company for “operating a Jim Crow restaurant in the Richmond Terminal.” The ICC dismissed the complaint against the Union News Company citing that the restaurant was not subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC (York Daily Record).
In June 1961, Freedom Riders in Florida tested integration practices at an airport in Tallahassee. The riders successfully “integrated” a white lunchroom at the Greyhound bus station in Tallahassee and then set their sights on the airport terminal. A group of 10 riders attempted to be served at the airport restaurant operated by the Union News Company, but the manager closed the restaurant prior to the riders’ arrival. The manager refused to open the restaurant, citing the practice of closing once a month for "general cleaning and that this was cleaning day” (Tampa Bay Times). Nine of the Freedom Riders were arrested for the demonstration and served four days in jail. The airport restaurant became desegregated shortly afterward following negotiations between the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights organization, and the Union News Company (The Mobile Beacon and Alabama Citizen).
The lunch counter sign Mike Wolfe found in Alabama and donated to the Jim Crow Museum may have been installed at the Birmingham Greyhound station or another station in the state. We may never know the exact location. However, we are very grateful for the generous donation and look forward to displaying the sign in our new facility to help tell these stories of pushback against injustice.
Jim Crow Museum
Greyhound Buslines opens one of nation's finest depots here. (1951, January 31). The Birmingham News. Retrieved from: https://www.newspapers.com/image/574047875/?terms=%22Union%20News%20Company%22%20%22lunch%20counter%22&match=1
'Riders' Make State Test Runs. (1961, June 16). The Palm Beach Post.
Retrieved from: https://www.newspapers.com/image/133628959/?terms=%22Union%20News%20Company%22%20%22lunch%20counter%22&match=1
Airport Restaurant In Tallahassee Bars Flying 'Freedom Riders'. (1961, June 16). Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from: https://www.newspapers.com/image/318024132
Free Nine Freedom Rider - Clergymen Who Chose Jail. (1964, August 22). The Mobile Beacon and Alabama Citizen. Retrieved from: https://www.newspapers.com/image/554125829/?terms=%22union%20News%20company%22%20%22freedom%20riders%22&match=2
The Government Clips a Wing Of Jim Crow. (1961, October 4). York Daily Record. Retrieved from:https://www.newspapers.com/image/553299309/?terms=%22union%20News%20company%22%20%22freedom%20riders%22&match=1