Blacks, Unions & Organizing (Table of Contents)

Blacks, Unions & Organizing (Table of Contents)


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Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996


Compiled by Rudolph Lewis




John W. Livingston, born August 17, 1908, on a farm in Iberia, Missouri (the foothills of the Ozarks),  served the AFL-CIO in the post of Director of Organization for ten years, from the merger of the AFL and CIO in December 1955 to December 1965. During this period, Livingston demonstrated his well‑known skills as an administrator, negotiator, and organizer.

By the time Livingston was twenty-six, he was well into a lifelong career as a trade unionist. In December 1927, after attending Iberia Academy for two years, Livingston worked five years at the Fisher Body Division of the General Motors Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked in the trim department.In  1930, he had a brush with management when he and some thirty other workers demanded an increase in their 40-cents-per-hour wage. For their boldness, Livingston and thirty-one other workers were summarily fired. A skillful worker, Livingston was soon back at Fisher.

John William Livingston

*   *   *   *   *

Born March 2, 1915, in Athens, Ohio, William “Bill” Kircher rose from the labor union ranks to hold the AFL-CIO post of Director of Organization from 1965 to 1973. A well-liked fellow, Bill Kircher’s life was long and studded with many achievements.

Kircher graduated in June 1932 from Athens public schools. He then attended Ohio University and graduated in 1936 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He worked as a reporter and editor for the Athens Messenger (1935-1936) and as editor for La Peunte Valley Journal (1936-1937). From 1937 to 1941 he also served as editor for several community newspapers in the Cincinnati area. Kircher’s union activity began with editorial employees on several newspapers in Ohio; he helped to bring them into the American Newspaper Guild.

In 1940 Kircher went to work for the Wright Aeronautical Plant in Evansdale. While working at this defense plant, he helped form UAW Local 647 and served from 1941‑1943 as the local’s full‑time Education Director.

William Kircher

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Negroes in the United States read this history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the good will and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted. They are shocked that action organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience, and protests are becoming our every day tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely existed on both sides of the table. We want to rely upon the goodwill of those who oppose us. 

Indeed, we have brought forward the method of non-violence to give an example of unilateral goodwill in an effort to evoke it in those who have not yet felt it in their hearts. But we know that if we are not simultaneously organizing our strength we will have no means to move forward. If we do not advance, the crushing burden of centuries of neglect and economic deprivation will destroy our will, our spirits and our hopes. In this way labor’s historic tradition of moving forward to create vital people as consumers and citizens has become our own tradition, and for the same reasons.

Martin Luther King

*   *   *   *   *

Samuel Gompers    John Mitchell    John L. Lewis

  Walter Reuther

The Negro and Industrial Unionism  Labor Fights All Injustice 

*   *   *   *   *



Section 1 — Union History   Home

Growth of Modern Labor Unions

AFL-CIO Department of Organization History

Bio-Sketch of J. W. Livingston

Bio-Sketch of William Kircher

Brief History Agricultural Workers Union

Martin Luther King Speaks to AFL-CIO


Section 2 — Life of the Organizer    Home

WoodWorkers Union

TextileWorkers & Thuggery

Schreier Organizing Stress

John Wiggs Case

Organizer’s Union

The Cicero Scott Case

Section 3 — Techniques and Methods in Organizing  Home

Organizer’s Union

How to Organize A Union

Section 4 — Obstacles to Organizing   Home

Maid Complains of AFL-CIO Pay

Labor’s Deeds Ignored in Schools

AFL-CIO  A Year Old

Communists in AFL-CIO

Staff Layoffs

AFL-CIO & Teamsters

Right to Work States

Political Contributions

Amendments to Taft-Hartley

Employer Advantages

Amending the NLRA

Solving Organizing Problems at Bel Harbour

Organizing Professional Workers

Finding Young Labor Leaders

AFL-CIO Executive Council Reports on NLRB & Organizing


Carpenters Bar Negroes  

Few Blacks in Construction Unions

AFL-CIO Raises Dues

Lack of Union Growth

Union Share Decline








Section 5 — Organizing in the South   Home

Mary L. Dudziak. Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey (2008)

Thurgood Marshall Speaks to AFL-CIO   Thurgood Marshall Bio

Rockefeller & Capital

Dixie’s Reaction to Meany

Livingston on New South   

Reuther’s Southern Strategy   

Poverty Poll  

The South’s Need for Industry

The Negro’s Half Share

Carey on Civil Rights

Weak Unions in the South


Atlanta Constitution on Race Problem

Origin of Segregation

Intermarriage a No-No

Who Wants Integration

The Problem of Integration

The Racial Problem


*  *  *  *  *



Letters to the Civil Rights Dept.

Union Support for Integration

Keeping Negroes in Their Place

Raising the Negro

The Colored Man’s Cross

Labor & NAACP

Texas & Minorities

Organizing in Yazoo

Section 6 — Organizing in Baltimore  Home

Early Attempts to Organize Hopkins

BSEIU & Health Care Workers

BSEIU & Hopkins  

Hopkins & Local 491

Poverty Wages at Hopkins

Maryland Freedom Union

1199 Organizing Hopkins

1199 Wins

Fred Punch & 1199 Workers

SCLC & Hospital Workers

Eleanor Roosevelt on 1199

Fred Punch & Black Students

*   *   *   *   *

Related files

A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore

A Philip Randolph

A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore   

Crime Among Our People  

Dominance of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore Economy

The Dropout Challenge 

The Fight for Freedom

Food Future Past  

Forty Years of Determined Struggle


Give Detroit Schools a Fresh Start  

Henry Nicholas on Social Justice

IU Labor Studies Under Attack

Last Man Standing  Understanding “Last Man Standing” 

The Moral and Spiritual Miseducation of America’s Youth

More than Chains and Toil

Randolph Visits Ghana

SOS A Rising Student Movement

A Thoughtful Conversation about Religion 

Understanding “Last Man Standing” 

The Worst and Best of Times

*   *   *   *   *

There currently is a dangerous situation developing within the Amalgamated Transit Union, Division 241, AFL-CIO in the city of Chicago where, as I understand it, efforts are being made by the black membership to disaffiliate from the International Union. They have already conducted a four-day wildcat strike in Chicago on this issue — mainly not sufficient representation within the officers and executive board in the Local Union.

 They are again threatening a shutdown right around convention time. This is a rather serious situation as President and Business Agent James Hill has been appointed to fill the vacated Secretary-Treasurship of his International Union, the big problem being that there are only 4 Negroes on the 26-man Board of the Division and the Local has a procedure whereby pensioned off employees vote on the election of officers. Since most of the pensioners are caucasian, this allows the present power structure to pretty well designate who goes on the Executive Board. Black Militants in Unions

There are no lines of communication between the white and Negro workers. Men working side by side on the job no longer even talk to each other. In Unions which have no Negro members–telephone workers, railway, printing and others–there is also talk of getting out of the national and international unions and establishing a southern federation of labor based on segregation.

 So far, I have not found out what the situation is in the United Steel Workers which appear to be the center of activity of the White Citizens Councils. The entire staff of the Steel Workers Union is in Chicago this week, attending the wage policy committee meeting. The State Federation people are away on trips too.  Letter to the Civil Rights Department

*   *   *   *   *

“In the case which was before the United States Supreme Court on the question, the CIO, now merged with the AFL in what is called the AFL-CIO, filed an official document in which it stated emphatically and positively that the Union ‘supports the elimination of racial integration . . . from every phase of American Life.’ Further the union urged that segregation should be ended ‘forthwith’ rather than by ‘gradual adjustment.’ The document further states that where the ‘Unions have there way, there is like wise no segregation in the use of plant eating places, locker rooms, rest rooms, etc.’

“You may not have noticed in the newspapers that the AFL-CIO at its recent convention took $75,000.00 of the dues paid to it by the people who are its members and gave this money to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is the organization aggressively working for the wiping out of all racial segregation, both in schools, manufacturing plants and elsewhere.”

Octave Blake Says

*   *   *   *   *


Working in the Shadows

A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won’t Do

By Gabriel Thompson

Thompson spent a year working alongside Latino immigrants, who initially thought he was either crazy or an undercover immigration agent. He stooped over lettuce fields in Arizona, and worked the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in rural Alabama. . . . Thompson shines a bright light on the underside of the American economy, exposing harsh working conditions, union busting, and lax government enforcement—while telling the stories of workers, undocumented immigrants, and desperate US citizens alike, forced to live with chronic pain in the pursuit of $8 an hour. Gabriel Thompson has contributed to New York, The Nation, New York Times, Brooklyn Rail, In These Times and others. He is the recipient of the Richard J. Margolis Award, the Studs Terkel Media Award, and a collective Sidney Hillman Award. His writings are collected at Where The Silence Is .

*   *   *   *   *

Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition

By Seymour Drescher

In this classic analysis and refutation of Eric Williams’s 1944 thesis [Capitalism and Slavery], Seymour Drescher argues that Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in 1807 resulted not from the diminishing value of slavery for Great Britain but instead from the British public’s mobilization against the slave trade, which forced London to commit what Drescher terms “econocide.” This action, he argues, was detrimental to Britain’s economic interests at a time when British slavery was actually at the height of its potential. Originally published in 1977, Drescher’s work was instrumental in undermining the economic determinist interpretation of abolitionism that had dominated historical discourse for decades following World War II. For this second edition, which includes a foreword by David Brion Davis, Drescher has written a new preface, reflecting on the historiography of the British slave trade since this book’s original publication.


*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

From the Ashes of the Old

American Labor and America’s Future (2000)

By Stanley Aronowitz

Aronowitz presents a compelling case for the idea that “unions, if they are to thrive, must overcome the complacency of the last fifty years and expand labor’s influence throughout politics and culture. But first labor must overcome its image as the representative of a narrow segment of the working population….”

In intellectually strong but clear-spoken language, Aronowitz urges labor once again to define itself in sharp opposition to the ideology of corporate capitalism. He might attract some controversy with his suggestion that doing so requires a distancing of the unions from the Democratic Party (which, he reminds the reader, has drifted increasingly to the right under Bill Clinton, whose “reform” of welfare not only took money from the unemployed but may also keep wages down for the working poor). Might, that is, if labor had a strong enough voice for its dissent to be heard. —

*   *   *   *   *


Putting the World Together

My Father Walter Reuther, The Liberal Warrior

By Elisabeth Reuther Dickmeyer

A memoir about growing up with labor legend and social visionary, Walter Reuther, by his youngest daughter, Elisabeth. It is also a history of the UAW with Walter Reuther at the helm, and the monumental social impact he had on America and the world. The book dispels the conservative propaganda that liberals are bad for America. In contrast it tells how one of our nation’s greatest liberal and moral leaders created pensions and health care for workers, during World War II gave FDR the plan to turn Detroit’s auto plants into manufacturing of planes and tanks, thus creating the Arsenal of Democracy, co-founded the United Way with Henry Ford II, marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King, Jr., during all great civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s, was the first to give aid to Cesar Chavez and the migrant farm workers, gave President John F. Kennedy the plan that became the Peace Corps, gave the seed money for the first Earth Day, and at the time of his untimely death in a mysterious plane crash was leading the effort for national health care insurance for every American. The book also reveals Walter Reuther and his close relationships with Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

*   *   *   *   *

Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. —Lisa Adkins, University of London

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.—WashingtonPost

*   *   *   *   *

From the Ashes of the Old

American Labor and America’s Future (2000)

By Stanley Aronowitz

Aronowitz presents a compelling case for the idea that “unions, if they are to thrive, must overcome the complacency of the last fifty years and expand labor’s influence throughout politics and culture. But first labor must overcome its image as the representative of a narrow segment of the working population….” In intellectually strong but clear-spoken language, Aronowitz urges labor once again to define itself in sharp opposition to the ideology of corporate capitalism. He might attract some controversy with his suggestion that doing so requires a distancing of the unions from the Democratic Party (which, he reminds the reader, has drifted increasingly to the right under Bill Clinton, whose “reform” of welfare not only took money from the unemployed but may also keep wages down for the working poor). Might, that is, if labor had a strong enough voice for its dissent to be heard. Aronowitz delivers some rather intriguing proposals; it remains for history to determine whether an audience exists that will absorb and act upon them.—

*   *   *   *   *

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 5 May 2012




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