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"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

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