As a child, Janice Gairey looked up to labour organizers. Literally. In the 1950s, when Gairey was growing up, her father, James Desmond Davis, sat on the board of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

“It was a time when they wouldn’t accept Black workers into the labour movement,” she says. “So they had to form their own union to be represented and for their issues to be addressed.” Barred from other positions with the railway, Black sleeping car porters endured relentless racism, overwork, low wages and little sleep. Long rides on the railroad also meant they spent many hours separated from their families.

Gairey recalls the frequent meetings held in their home near Bathurst and Bloor, in Toronto, where she grew up. “It became a social event,” she says. A safe space where men and women could meet and talk about the racism and discrimination they faced, and where they could plan their activism.

Read the full feature on the Our Times Magazine website.