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Some items and events of possible interest:
Boss of the Grips_HC_978-1-63149-322-5.j

"A thoroughly researched and illuminating biography.... Washington gives a palpable sense of the myriad obstacles blacks faced.... An absorbing, fresh perspective on black history."

Kirkus Reviews [starred review]


"In this illuminating debut biography, historian Washington celebrates a black New Yorker who won authority and influence in a segregated economy.... He paints a vivid portrait of the bustling golden age of train travel, and makes Williams a fitting exemplar of Harlem’s ambitious black middle class... The result is a rich, stirring social history of African-Americans’ struggle to succeed in an unfair system."

— Publishers Weekly


"Washington’s illustrated and well-researched work will have some appeal for rail fans, but its true value is for readers interested in the social condition of African Americans in New York during the period."

Library Journal

"Written with a curator's eye for compelling detail . . . . Washington does a masterful job detailing the struggles and triumphs of a family determined to make America live up to its promise of democracy."

— Ginger Adams Otis, author of

Firefight. The Century-Long Battle

to Integrate New York's Bravest

“[Washington] connects the dots with a deep and nuanced understanding of the people, the politics and the times. Boss of the Grips really is a reclamation of the historical record with a respect and a reverence for James Williams and the people he knew in the community that he was a part of.”

A'Lelia Bundles, author of 

On Her Own Ground:

The Life and Times of

Madam C.J. Walker”


“The book is wonderful. . . . [I]n addition to telling these stories and connecting the dots, . . . there are all these fabulous photographs, things that you wouldn’t know . . . about the regular everyday [Harlem] folks.”

— Sandra Bookman, host of

“Here and Now,” WABC-TV

“Few of us will have known anything about James Williams, and in this sense Washington’s book is similar to the overlooked lives featured these days in the New York Times obituary section. But as these fascinating obits tell us, these overlooked lives provide a fabulous insight into our shared history.”

— Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and executive director of the

Leon Levy Center for Biography

"An at once inspiring and cautionary new social history of Harlem and beyond in the first half of the 20th century. Mr. Washington. . . . reanimates a lost world of strivers who created a protean civic, artistic and commercial society to subvert the Jim Crow bias still resilient in the most liberal city in America. . . . [A]n illuminating chronicle of success against the odds. . . . It’s poignant to read all the stories of dogged advancement through deft maneuvering within a rigged system."

— Edward Kosner,

Wall Street Journal

"[T]he strength of Boss of the Grips is Washington’s absolute command of the broader story surrounding Williams, the lives of urban African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is an indispensable story of the black experience and one that seldom gets noticed in other New York City history books on this period."

— The Bowery Boys,

10 Favorite Books of 2019



"The subject of this tremendously involving book, James Williams, the chief porter for the “Red Caps” of Grand Central Station, is less well-known than virtually any figure on this list [of favorite biographies], but . . . Washington does a masterful job of showing how important - and fascinating - his life and times were."

— Steve Donoghue,

Open Letters Review

10 Best Biographies of 2019

"Eric K. Washington’s Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal is a deeply informed and personal story of the Harlem-based black men who worked at New York City’s major train station. The book is a remarkable telling of a story about race, class, labor, and social and economic history. This highly personal story speaks to much larger and universally significant issues."

— Jonathan Haworth,

Chair of the Gill Prize Jury

"A sensitive and detailed life of James Williams, in the context of the city’s emerging African-American middle class."

— Tom Lewis,

Chair of the judging panel for the

New York Academy of History

"If you are nostalgic for the grand days of rail travel, you need to read this book.  If you have been pondering the prevalence of systemic racism in American society, you also need to read this book."

Janet Wells Greene,

New York Labor History Association


The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal

by Eric K. Washington

 Published by Liveright | W.W. Norton 




A long-overdue biography of the head of Grand Central Terminal’s Red Caps, who flourished in the cultural nexus of Harlem and American railroads. 

In a feat of remarkable research and timely reclamation, Eric K. Washington uncovers the nearly forgotten life of James H. Williams (1878–1948), the chief porter of Grand Central Terminal’s Red Caps—a multitude of Harlem-based black men whom he organized into the essential labor force of America’s most august railroad station. Washington reveals that despite the highly racialized and often exploitative nature of the work, the Red Cap was a highly coveted job for college-bound black men determined to join New York’s bourgeoning middle class. Examining the deeply intertwined subjects of class, labor, and African American history, Washington chronicles Williams’s life, showing how the enterprising son of freed slaves successfully navigated the segregated world of the northern metropolis, and in so doing ultimately achieved financial and social influence. With this biography, Williams must now be considered, along with Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jacqueline Onassis, one of the great heroes of Grand Central’s storied past.

Author Talk Events:

Please note: several venues require prior reservations.

Click the bold underscored event titles below dates to register.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019:

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture [click to view livestream]

515 Malcolm X Boulevard (West 135th Street), Manhattan — 6:30PM

Friday, November 8, 2019:

Leon Levy Center for Biographywith Pamela Newkirk

CUNY Graduate Center

365 Fifth Avenue (34th Street), Manhattan — 6:30PM

Sunday, November 10, 2019 - Two (2) Events:

Woodlawn Cemetery — AUTHOR TALK &

Woodlawn Cemetery — TROLLEY TOUR

Jerome & Bainbridge Avenues, The Bronx — 2-4PM

Tuesday, November 12, 2019:

Grand Central Library/NYPL 

135 East 46th Street, Manhattan — 6PM

Thursday, November 14, 2019:

NYC Municipal Archives/Dept of Records 

31 Chambers Street Manhattan — 6PM

Tuesday, November 19, 2019:

Columbia University Community Scholars Lecture | Official Book Launch 

The Forum [click to view video]

Columbia University, Manhattanville Campus

601 West 125th Street, Manhattan — 6:30PM















Sunday, November 24, 2019:

"Here and Now" with Sandra Bookman

abc7-TV — 12Noon

"New book reveals hidden tale of James H. Williams,

head of Grand Central Terminal's Red Caps" [click to watch]

Tuesday, November 26, 2019:

"All Of It" with Alison Stewart | WNYC Radio [click to listen]

New York Public Radio — 12Noon

"The Man Who Led the Red Caps of Grand Central" — [click to listen]

Thursday, December 5, 2019:

Word Up Community Bookshop | Librería Comunitaria

2113 Amsterdam Avenue (at 165th Street), Manhattan — 6:30PM

Saturday, December 14, 2019:

C-SPAN2 BookTV — 7PM

Thursday, January 23, 2020:

"Good Morning, Nueva York" with King Downing | WBAI Radio — 6AM

Revolution Books — (free-will donation of $5-10 requested for store events)

437 Malcolm X Boulevard (at 132nd Street), Manhattan — 7PM

Wednesday, February 5, 2020:

Arsenal Gallery, Central Park RSVP: by email or phone

830 Fifth Avenue, 3rd Floor, Manhattan — 6PM

Wednesday, February 12, 2020:

Tony Guida's New York | CUNY-TV — 8:30PM

"Red Caps" — [click to watch]

Saturday, February 15, 2020:

"Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal" | Black History Month Walking Tour

Municipal Art Society-Reservation Required — 11AM-1PM


Thursday, March 5, 2020:

NY Transit Museum  Register: $15/Free for members

99 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn — 6:30PM

Thursday, March 9, 2020:

Ink Slingers Podcast:  



Monday, March 23, 2020:

McNally Jackson Books Soho with Maxine Gordon


Pastrami a Go-Go Podcast:



Thursday, May 7, 2020:

Online: New York Society Library — 6:30 PM





Thursday, May 21, 2020:

Gotham Center for New York City History — Blog

Wednesday, July 1, 2020:

GANYC Virtual Forum: "Diversity in Tour Guiding in NYC":

Friday, July 3, 2020:

BIO (Biographers International Organization) Podcast:

Friday, August 7, 2020:

East Hampton Library Virtual Authors Night, Interviewed by A'Lelia Bundles — 7PM:



Wednesday, August 19, 2020:

Green-Wood Cemetery Virtual Talk: The Silent Protest Parade of 1917 — 5-6PM:









Friday, September 11, 2020:

Bowery Boys Podcast: "James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal"










Wednesday, September 30, 2020:

Maison Dora Maar/Dora Maar House Virtual Book Talk with Eric K. Washington — 1PM (EST)













Wednesday, February 10, 2021:

Monmouth County Library Virtual Author Talk with Eric K. Washington — 10:30AM (EST)

Monday, February 22, 2021:

7th Annual GANYC Apple Awards — 8PM (EST)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021:

Jeff Goodman's Rediscovering New York Podcast — 7PM (EST)

Saturday, May 1, 2021:

The Road We Came, On Site Opera — Walking Tour App featuring Kenneth Overton

BOTG Eventbrite poster CU CSL-3.jpg
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Pastrami a Go-Go podcast.jpeg
BOTG-NY Society Library_Instagram.jpeg
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BIO Podcast Episode #42 - Eric K. Washin
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BOTG event poster_Dora Maar


De Blasio parks renaming_Ed Redd:NYC May

“Thank you so much, Eric. You’ve devoted so much to chronicling and celebrating and uplifting the extraordinary history of Harlem, and of so many great people. And you’re right, too many people whose names are not known well enough, and we are going to do a lot to change that. Thank you for having profoundly contributed to that work for many years.”

— Hon. Bill de Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York,

following introductory remarks by local historian and author Eric K. Washington during the dedication ceremony to rename two Harlem park spaces as James Baldwin Lawn and Langston Hughes Playground, November 21, 2020.

I'm featured in Nathan Kensinger's stunning Curbed New York photo essay on the historic West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville as its vernacular streetscape gives way to new development. - March 2018



Salon à la Maison Dora Maar, Ménerbes, France, jeudi 21 septembre 2017

Eric K. Washington est un historien indépendant et auteur basé à New York City qui travaillera sur Boss of the Grips, une biographie de James H. Williams, l'influent concierge en chef des «Red Cap» du Grand Central Terminal, prévue pour l'automne 2018.


Dora Maar House Fellows in Residence, September 2017:

Eric K. Washington is an independent historian and author based in New York City. While at Dora Maar House he will be working on Boss of the Grips, a biography of James H. Williams (1878-1948), the once influential Chief “Red Cap” railroad porter at Grand Central Terminal, slated for publication in Fall 2018.



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