John Whitaker’s railroad career began with a summer job on the Georgia Northern Railway. During World War II, he became a combat pilot – one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. As a locomotive fireman on the Central of Georgia Rail after the war, Whitaker and other African-American railroaders formed the International Brotherhood of Railroad Employees to address workplace discrimination issues.
In 1964, Whitaker became the CG’s first African-American locomotive engineer. As a road foreman of engines on Southern Railway, he was the railroad’s first African-American transportation officer. He went on to serve as a road foreman instructor and was a trainmaster until his retirement in 1981. On Oct. 30, 2001, NS named its new $380 million intermodal facility at Austell, GA., in Whitaker's honor.
At the dedication ceremony, Whitaker said, “I am deeply honored to have my name on this facility, but I didn’t achieve all these things alone. We knew we were doing the right thing. We had to keep moving forward. We were trying to help ourselves and our families and paving the way for others.” NS Chairman David Goode called Whitaker’s record of service “a source of inspiration to the people everywhere who continue to make America’s transportation infrastructure the envy of the world.”