After 50 years working for the Illinois Central Railroad, Milton McDaniel, Sr. of Carbondale is retiring. His career was one marked with firsts — first black fireman to be hired by the railroad, and later as the first black engineer.
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When McDaniel was hired to work as a fireman for Illinois Central Rail Road on Aug. 4, 1967, he was the first black fireman hired north of the Ohio River. Harry Koonce, superintendent of railroads in Carbondale office, broke railroad rules to hire him. While there were black firemen south of Cairo, there were none in Illinois.
He was promoted to engineer in 1973 and was the first black engineer on the line.
In 1967, there was still a lot he was not allowed to do because of his race.
“I was unable to cross the bridge into Kentucky,” McDaniel said.
The first time McDaniel was allowed to take a train across the bridge, which is almost 4 miles in length, was 1978.