The first African-American “motorman” was actually a woman, Arcola Philpott.
Philpott was born Arcola Ruffins on July 21, 1913. She was an accomplished pianist who spoke several foreign languages. Prior to moving to Los Angeles from Chicago, she worked as a social worker for seven years, in addition to working in research for the University of Chicago’s History Department. She attended Loyola University to study social science and later attended City College while in Los Angeles.
Philpott worked out of Arthur Winston Division 5 and drove the “F” line from 116th/South Vermont Avenue to Union Station, traveling up Vermont to Santa Barbara (now Martin Luther King Boulevard), Grand, Jefferson, Main, Macy (now Cesar Chavez) to the Union Station Passenger terminal.
Shortly after Philpott was hired on with the Los Angeles Railway, the company hired its first black motormen. They were Louis S. Bernard, Hoyt A. Brown, Percy B. Hill, Roosevelt Mills, Butler James Mitchell, W.B. Jones, E.M. Morris, W.S.A. Weary, James Womack.
While in Los Angeles, she also worked at the Brown Derby restaurant. In her later years, she returned to Chicago and worked as a licensed practical nurse and journalist.