ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



My introduction to many of the issues confronting working people and their unions occurred

in 1959 when my father, my neighbors, and my uncles went on strike against Bethlehem Steel.

I learned that this strike of the United Steelworkers of America (USW) was a national event

 that had the attention of millions of Americans as well as Dwight D. Eisenhower . . .



Community Unrest: The Rise of  Baltimore Local 1199

By Robert B. Moore


An Overview

My effort here is to recapture a small but exciting piece of African American working class history, the story of the last great union organizing victory of the twentieth century. It is the story of an African American community’s effort to secure justice and meaningful job opportunities in a hostile but changing environment in Baltimore, Maryland and the nation during the 1960s.

Since the early 1960s, I have been an organizer, local union officer, central labor council officer, and international officer. No other organizing drive had the movement quality that this the 1969 Baltimore campaign possessed.  The early 1980s and subsequently our numbers have steadily declined, as the tripartite description of American Industrial power of my childhood “Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor” has completely disappeared from our language.

In part the success of Local 1199 in 1969 Baltimore was due to millions of low wage workers who were left out in the cold when the Roosevelt New Deal struck a deal with the CIO that gave industrial workers the right to legally organize. The New Deal itself was in response to community and nationwide demands that something should be done to help lift American workers out of poverty.

Among those left out in the cold were hospital workers in Baltimore.  In1959 the same had been true in New York until Local 1199 decided to demand union recognition with strikes but most importantly with the solidarity of the African American and Puerto Rican communities. Leon Davis, president of Local 1199, was very supportive of the civil rights movement and eliminating poverty. To highlight this commitment the union sponsored annually its “Salute to Freedom.” Martin Luther King often referred to 1199 as his favorite union and three weeks before his death he spoke at the Local 1199 “Salute to Freedom” remarking that “I don’t consider myself a stranger here, I consider myself a fellow 1199er.”  (Fink & Greenberg, Upheaval in the Quiet Zone, 1989)

This kind of relationship made Local 1199 a stand up union in the eyes of many African American leaders and workers in Baltimore when a brash and militant young African American organizer1 showed up telling his story of conversion from a non-union respiratory tech to a fulltime 1199 organizer.  A symbol of the union’s commitment to promote African American leadership less than 12 months after the assassination of Dr. King and the resulting urban rebellion in Baltimore.

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While this paper primarily deals with events that occurred January 1968 to August 1969, I believe it is important to describe a little Baltimore history to establish its uniqueness in the country’s history. Maryland was a slave holding state until the end of the Civil War. It is a place from which Frederick Douglass would emerge to become the first great national African American leader dedicated to freedom and the uplift of his people. Maryland is the home state of Harriet Tubman, an escaped female slave who led hundreds of slaves to freedom. One civil rights movement leaders I interviewed, William “Bill” Henry, has family roots back to Frederick Douglass familial ties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.2 I first met Bill Henry in the spring of 1963, while he was running the Baltimore Tutorial Project, a project begun by the Northern Student Movement using area college students to tutor East Baltimore high school students. Bill has more insight into Baltimore’s student civil rights movement than anyone else I know. Over the years he has been a constant inspiration.

Another important piece to this story is the role of the Congress of Racial Equality’s (CORE) “Target City Project” and Maryland Freedom Union (MFU) in reshaping the Baltimore human rights movement vision. To help with this I interviewed CORE veteran, Stu Wechsler, whose commitment to equality under the law drove him from the U.S. cultural mecca in New York to working class backwater Baltimore.3 I also interviewed Bob Hillman, a management side labor attorney who was privy to some of the discussions that determined hospital management’s decision to participate in representational elections although they were not required by law to do so.4 I also interviewed William Lucy whose role and understanding of events in Memphis, Tennessee related to the strike of sanitation workers in 1968, verified the very premise of this paper.5

Mr. Lucy was sent by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees to see if the union could be helpful to the striking sanitation workers. Upon arriving in Memphis he instantly recognized the need for community support which would require a great deal of education for community leaders about unions and how a union victory could lift the wages and benefits of the entire community. Lucy in particular was intrigued by the reality that in Memphis there appeared to be no conscious recollection of labor struggles. Lucy noted that while the issues that led to the Memphis sanitation strike were similar to those that would lead Baltimore sanitation workers striking later in 1968, there was clearly much more community understanding of unions in Baltimore because of the presence of the large industrial union’s participation in politics.

My introduction to many of the issues confronting working people and their unions occurred in 1959 when my father, my neighbors, and my uncles went on strike against Bethlehem Steel. I learned that this strike of the United Steelworkers of America (USW) was a national event that had the attention of millions of Americans as well as Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America. I might not have paid any attention to the strike, except it impacted me and my family personally.

My father involved me in the strike defense by assigning base chores such as peeling and separating rotten potatoes from the 50-pound bags of potatoes that the USW provided strikers to nourish their families. It was a job I did not like. It was dirty menial work. My father insisted that all work was important and that you had to learn all kinds of work to make it in the world. Among relatives and neighbors there was grumbling about the length of the strike and whether there would be any benefit for Negroes when the strike was over.

For me the strike became a personal disaster as the school semester began.  My father decided there was not enough money to get the kind of back to school gear I desired. My mother determined that she should go to work as a domestic, which my father violently opposed. I too opposed my mother working, particularly as a domestic servant, because I did not want my mother cleaning up after white folks.

The strike ended when Eisenhower invoked a provision of the Taft-Hartley Act which provided that if a strike negatively impacted the larger community or the economy the President could order workers back to work for a cooling off period while the President  appointed a board of inquiry  to find a resolution. It made sense to me. The issues of unions, working wives, working mothers, and the dignity of work were seared across the back of my brain from that year forward.

This steel union strike generated questions about the responsibility of labor to the welfare of the greater community and the level of society at which its involvement should begin. Does it begin and end with their members? Should Labor assume responsibility for the lowliest worker as well as the highest paid craftsman? Does it have a responsibility to eradicate the biases of religious, race, and gender rather than mask it?

In 1960 I became extremely conscious of the student civil rights movement after the student sit-ins began in North Carolina and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed. I was so impressed, I wanted to join up. By my junior year, I was walking picket lines over the discriminatory practices of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company and the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company.  This I did as a proud member of the Jackie Robinson Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

This style of movement activity was not enough to satisfy my growing desire to confront and eliminate the evils of racial and economic injustice through nonviolent civil disobedience. My heroes were the Negro college students who were putting their bodies on the line for freedom now. I joined them in 1963 on a path that led me to appreciate the worth and dignity of work. I would also learn to appreciate and understand the struggles of my mother and other working class women in a patriarchal world.

Great Force of History

History does not refer merely or even principally to the past on the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all we do.—James Baldwin

Robert J Brugger’s Maryland, A Middle Temperament 1634-1980 1(1988) describes Maryland as state with a character of compromise, a place where compromise is always at the top of the agenda. In his words, “Over three and one-half centuries, Marylanders in a sense developed a culture all their own. As they came to grips with (or sidestepped) the choices facing them, they cultivated a middle-state ethos—a sensibility founded on compromise given conflict, on toleration given differences among people and their failings. . . . Marylanders at their best have stood for moderation, skepticism, ironic humor…”  (Brugger, 1988). I have thought in recent years that perhaps Brugger is right about this Maryland ethos for moderation and compromise in what he calls America’s oldest border state. This question of moderation and compromise is most poignant when examining the Civil War, slavery, individual freedom, class and race. If history is literally present in all we do as James Baldwin suggests, than there is probably a lot of pain and confusion under the skin influencing human passions.

Through most of the country’s history Baltimore, Maryland has been at the center of the shipping and ship building industry in the American economy. It is an industry that employed free and slave labor. Frederick Douglass’s master rented him out to shipbuilders on the Baltimore water front until Douglass escaped to freedom.  In 1865 white ship caulkers went on strike demanding that black skilled workers be fired. Issac Myers, a caulker and “son of free Negroes and a graduate of the Reverend Jacob Fortie’s school in Baltimore gathered black and white capital and organized a Negro cooperative shipyard—the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock company” (Brugger, 1988).

Black and white working class unity has always been elusive but post Civil War working class unity has its own special ethos based on being a Southern slave state but unable to make slavery return the kind of profit that South Carolina slaveholders got from their crops. Many of its citizens believed slavery compared to free labor was an extremely inefficient system but, rather than abolish it, it was allowed to remain legal.

Lizabeth Cohen’s study of industrial workers in Chicago—Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939—highlights the fact that most immigrant groups stuck to their own neighborhoods at the turn of the twentieth century through to the Great Depression. A situation that made it difficult to build sustainable unions or win strikes since ethnic groups tended to mistrust each other, and employers naturally took advantage of this situation by playing one group against another. She paints a picture of ethnic isolation in which people sought assistance in hard times from institutions in their own community. They received news and entertainment from sources produced in their native language.

Things began to change rapidly as the American movie industry grew, as radio broadcasts and marketing campaigns created national and regional products that transcended smaller ethnic markets. The Great Depression created a crisis that could not be met by their ethnic institutions or local community leaders. They were forced to seek help elsewhere. They found it in Roosevelt’s Democratic Party’s New Deal and the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (CIO) union organizing drive. She claims the interaction at meetings and participation in the voting process broke down ethnic barriers and for the first time they felt like real Americans. She boasts about the CIO’s commitment to being inclusive of all, taking their drive into each community and assuring each group they would be welcome. She closes her book by expressing admiration for the racial and ethnic unity that rank and file workers created in the 1930s. She quotes a black packinghouse worker named Jim Cole “the CIO done greatest thing in the world getting’ everybody who works in the yards together, and breakin’ up the hate and bad feelings that used to be held against the Negro” (Cohen, 2008, pp. 367-368).

While Cohen is trying to be balanced and explains that she does not mean rank and file workers gave up racism, but only that they did what was needed to get by at the time.  And “that it looked as if it they had to workers like Cole at that moment in time. He could not know how tensions would grow between white and black workers in the CIO when the government in wartime backed blacks in their battle against job discrimination” (Cohen, 2008). To the writer, as an African American, this description sounds like a white working class conspiracy to deny us fellow Americans a chance to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. In fact much of this makes it appear that working class unity is and has been a sham.

In Not in my Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City (2010), Antero Pietila successfully documents housing segregation and the lengths that the state, religious institutions, universities, newspapers, and elected officials of Maryland went to keep the working class racially divided in Baltimore. Pietila exposes Baltimore as a leader in getting around the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.  They inspired Yankees and Confederates alike when Baltimore’s City Council passed the Residential Segregation bill which forbids blacks or whites from living in city blocks that were designated for the opposite race, and he highlights a New York Times quote, “Nothing like it can be found in any stature book or ordinance record of this country.”  He further states, “It is unique in legislation, Federal, State or municipal—an ordinance so far-reaching in the logical sequence that must result from its enforcement that it may be said to mark a new era in social legislation.” “Baltimore thus became a national leader in residential segregation” (Pietila, 2010).

Clearly in 1910 African Americans were not wanted among working class whites and needed to continue to rely on their own community for progress. In 1966 the race for governor of Maryland would pit George P. Mahoney, a well known politician who had run for many offices but never won any office, against Spiro Agnew, the Baltimore County Chief Executive. Mahoney had won the Democratic primary against Carlton Sickles, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, who according to Kenneth Durr in Behind The Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980, had the backing of the AFL-CIO leadership but not that of East Baltimore’s working class white wards and precincts. The City’s white working class rallied around Mahoney because  his campaign slogan, “A Man’s Home is His Castle,” which seemed to speak to their concern that their neighborhoods were under attack as blacks kept pushing for an end to segregated housing.

Durr suggests that CORE’s Target City Project and other militant activities on the part of African Americans helped to draw them away from their union’s political goals. But none the less Durr writes, “On 8 November 1966 Marylanders went to the polls in the largest turnout for a gubernatorial election ever.” Mahoney, in the words of The Sun was buried under “an avalanche of Negro and suburban white collar votes” (Durr, 2003).  African American workers who have sought to build working class unity have always been bemused by the white working class’s fear of blacks. There had been a long history of African American skilled tradesmen working in the ship building industry as free and slave labor,  yet a hundred years after Issac Meyers triumph over white chauvinism in 1968 the Associated Press reported that 150 Negro employees were picketing Bethlehem Steel.

“Lee Douglas Jr., of Baltimore, who said he was the chairman for the Steelworkers and Shipworkers for Equality, said his followers were protesting because Negroes have no chance to move up from the lowest levels” (AP, 1968).

In 1968 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) opened a Maryland office to spread its message of black political and economic empowerment. I assumed the role of Maryland State Director of SNCC. Our main objective was to build unity in the African American community across all classes. My goal was to build what was being referred to as a “black united front.”  To announce the opening of the office and our mission we call a press conference at our new headquarters which we would share with the Union for Jobs or Income Now (U-JOIN)6 and several other black student and community groups. A reporter for the Baltimore Sun interviewed me and  wrote an article that seemed to have little to do with our mission instead it quoted me in the article’s heading as saying  “the Mayor’s Anti-Crime Plan was War On Black Community.”  In addition under my picture and name there was a quote taken completely out of context; “the police are the enemy” (Lynton, 1968).  For months afterwards a police detail monitored all my activities.

After seeing the article, I was concerned that our quest for unity would become a non-starter as I would be an outcast in my hometown and the next 24 hours seemed to bear witness to my fears. Maryland State Senator Clarence Mitchell III, son of the NAACP’s Washington lobbyist Clarence Mitchell II asked for a point of personal  privilege and denounced me as an outside agitator and bigot. In the Baltimore I grew up in, the Mitchells were the voice of civil rights and the NAACP.  To top off that 24 hours of watching the media burning my civil rights credentials, Juanita Mitchell, Clarence III’s mother called me a Maoist. It was painful watching these allegations from a family I had so admired and who had actually recruited me to the movement several years earlier. It was also sad as I began to recognize that class and status were rubbing up against the need for expanded and more democratic leadership structures.

 Finally, after four days of attacks, other leaders came to SNCC’s aid and a reaffirmed my call for a black united front and a moratorium on black leaders publicly attacking each other. After many phone conversations took place seeking advice and requesting support, The Sun reported that “Six Negroes Issue Warning On Raced-Based Crime War.” The gist of the article written by the same reporter was that other Negro leaders were also concerned that Mayor D’Alessandro’ s campaign against street crime could be viewed as racially motivated and there needed to be a civilian review board to oversee the police. Stephen Lynton further reported, “The signers of the statement issued yesterday noted: ‘We do not support the position taken by some illustrious individuals who purport to dictate who can or cannot speak on behalf of the black community’. The comment was a rebuke to Mr. Mitchell and other politicians who challenged Mr. Moore’s standing in the community” (Lynton, Six Negroes Issue Warning On Race-Based Crime War, 1968).

This was grist for the mill and black unity. The conversations surrounding the opening  of the SNCC office actually rapidly propelled the first meeting of the Baltimore Black United Front.

To tell this story I rely to a great extent on my recollections and involvement as well as newspaper articles, magazine articles, and interviews with civil rights and labor union activists.. I have also read several books that cover race relations, industrial relations, and civil rights history in Maryland back to the Civil War. Martin Luther King’s assassination led to urban rebellions on the part of African Americans all around the country. Reports often note that while most of the rebellions started immediately or within hours, the Baltimore uprising took two days. Some of us believe that in part the reason for the delay in Baltimore was because many African American leaders attempted to organize a nonviolent response.  We hoped we could get the State and businesses to officially declare a day of mourning to channel the anger into a constructive demonstration of unity which appeared to be working as thousands of citizens rode about town with their headlights on and black ribbon waving from their car antennas.

I was extremely proud of my fellow citizens.  But it appears that interaction between black teenagers buying their Easter outfits, nervous store owners trying to make a buck, and nervous police with orders to secure the Central Business District (CBD) to the west caused tempers to flare.  Unfortunately, for East Baltimore residents and businesses, Gay Street diagonally crosses both east/west and north/south.  As the police secured the CBD, they pushed angry teenagers and others all over East Baltimore. While my interpretation of what sparked the violence may be challenged by many, there is much agreement that events surrounding the rebellion led Spiro Agnew to the White House, though not for long.

In Brown in Baltimore, School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism, Howell Baum describes a press conference and meeting with black leaders: “They assembled, many exhausted from walking the streets trying to restore order, expecting the governor’s appreciation. Instead, he began reading a statement attacking them for encouraging and supporting the rioters. He identified them as ‘moderate’ black leaders, the only ones he accepted, in contrast with the ‘circuit-riding, Hanoi- visiting type of leader, the caterwauling, riot- inciting burn America down type of leader’. Yet some of them, he charged, had met secretly with the ‘reckless’ ‘demagogue’ who headed the local Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chapter, and all had declined to repudiate militants and advocates of violence, such as Stokely . . .” (Baum, 2010).

The secret meeting he referred to was the first Black United Front meeting, which was arranged through the U.S. mail. It was, of course, not secret to most of the city’s black leadership, many of whom were at Agnew’s hastily called press conference and meeting blaming them for the violence. Most walked out, but many whites seemed to enjoy the way Agnew talked down to black leaders as if they were children.  After this event, Nixon picked Agnew for his running mate.  African American unity was growing in Baltimore.

The Struggle That Led to the Win

In 1969, health care workers in Baltimore were able to build a union of 7,000 workers in less than a year, when they were not covered by the National Labor Relations Act  (Fink & Greenberg, Upheaval in the Quiet Zone, 1989).  Community unrest in Baltimore’s African American community resulting from the civil rights struggle, the Black Power movement, Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor Peoples’ Campaign, and King’s assassination provided low-wage hospital workers the inspiration and the community support that made the difference. 

On a warm muggy Baltimore afternoon in August 1969, Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, joined union organizers at the Rutland Street entrance to the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The union organizers were from Local 1199 Retail Wholesale Department Store Union (RWDSU), AFL-CIO’s (Local 1199) National Organizing Committee (NOC), of which Mrs. King was co-chair of the NOC. The NOC had been conducting an organizing drive at Baltimore hospitals which officially started in March of that year on the heels of a strike in Charleston, South Carolina which represented 1199’s  and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) first effort to follow up on MLK’s “Poor Peoples Campaign.” Mrs. King’s visit was intended to seal the victory in a two-day election to be conducted by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR).

The choice of the DLLR to conduct the election resulted from the reality that private voluntary hospital workers were not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1969. Unlike the Industrial workers who benefitted from New Deal policies that legitimatized labor unions and led to the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), hospital workers in Baltimore and across the country had no federal insured rights to organize.

The struggle that led to the win in 1969 was preceded ten years earlier when the Building Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO (BSEIU)7 started an organizing drive at Johns Hopkins Hospital among the non-professional service workers. This group was predominantly Negro workers who were among the lowest paid workers in Baltimore. The 1959 BSEIU campaign failed.

In Gregg L. Michel’s “Union power, soul power unionizing Johns Hopkins university hospital, 1959 – 1974,” the author suggests that BSEIU’s 1959 campaign began in much the same way the 1969 1199 campaign began, but it failed to get JHH management to agree to an election. BSEIU organizers passed leaflets to recruit members by promising better wages, better benefits, and better working conditions. The average minimum wage of these workers was $21 dollars a week at the start of the campaign and by the end it would be $30 a week; the union would take credit for the wage increase, as it left town (Michel, 1997).

Gregg Mitchell’s premise is that Local 1199 was initially successful because it used racial language to attract black workers to the union.  When it sought to expand its institutional power by appealing to whites in straight union terms, it lost much of its power to force JHH to continue yielding to its demands. To sustain this perspective, Mitchell briefly describes events and the evolving militancy of the civil rights movement during the intervening decade from1959 to 1969. While Mitchell’s argument primarily deals with the period after 1199’s stunning 1969 victory, my efforts, however, will concentrate on what led to the 1969 victory.

In March of that year Elliott Godoff 8 hired me as an organizer for Local 1199 and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) NOC organizing drive in Baltimore. At the time, the job represented an opportunity to painlessly transition from my unsalaried position as Maryland State Director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was crumbling under loss of white liberal funds stemming from its adoption of the language of “Black Power” and “Black Community Control.”  I knew of Local 1199’s reputation for developing rank and file African American leaders into union wide leaders. I knew of their support for the civil rights movement. I thought 1199 would be a good place to continue the work of building black community and black institutional power to improve the economic and political conditions of the African American community.

In the spring of 1959 Local 1199 conducted what the authors of a book on the history of Local 1199, called the first major hospital strike in the nation (Fink & Greenberg, Upheaval in the Quiet Zone, 1199 SEIU and the Politics of Health Care Unionism; 2nd edition, 2009). Created in the 1930s, Local 1199 was a union of white pharmacists led by Leon Davis, a Jewish immigrant with left-wing political views. Although his union began as an organization of professionals, Davis believed in the Congress of Industrial Organizations form of industrial organizing which led him to insist upon including porters and fountain clerks in the union drug stores, where the pharmacists worked.  Davis allied his union with civil rights leaders and organizations in the African American and Puerto Rican communities. He made their cause to end racial discrimination, the union’s cause to end discrimination in employment in the work world and the larger community.

Two of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century,

Malcolm X and A. Philip Randolph, at a Local 1199 rally.

For African Americans and their leaders, the mid to late 1960s was a period of transition from a movement of nonviolent, civil disobedience, and direct action to self-defense and exercising “Black Economic and Political Power.” It was a transition that began with the 1964 “Freedom Summer” project in 1964 and the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and its challenge to both the regular Mississippi Democratic Party and the national Democratic Party at its 1964 Convention. The Mississippi regulars did not support African Americans having the right to vote, nor were they likely to support a national ticket with a liberal, such as Hubert Humphrey, who was an unabashed and shameless supporter of Negro rights.

Bill Henry characterized the MFDP in much the same way he spoke of his participation in the 1963 demonstrations at the Northwood Theatre two blocks from Morgan State College: “For me it was always about having a seat at the table” (Henry, 2011). Northwood demonstrations had been the crowning achievement of Morgan’s student civil rights agreement, when Bill and other student leaders sat down and hammered out with the theatre’s management an agreement to end their discriminatory practices.

The strategy developed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Confederated Organizations (COFO) was to use their voter registration efforts to build a grassroots political organization and fissure the relationship between the national party and the Mississippi party. In the end a compromise was offered to seat two non-voting delegates from the MFDP with the regulars (Hayden, 2009). Rejecting the compromise, the MFDP left Atlantic City, New Jersey disappointed with the level of support they got from northern liberals.  They resolved that building grassroots community and political organization in the “Black Belt South” was the only real path forward for millions of poor black farmers and poor black working families.

By 1966 this new direction became known as “Black Power” and led to different kinds of community organizational efforts including unions. National CORE picked Baltimore as its “Target City” to try out new organizational forms to build power for poor and working class Blacks. On May 10, 1966 the Afro-American Newspaper reported that the Maryland Freedom Union (MFU) filed its constitution with the National Labor Relations Board, thus making it a legally established union. It was also announced that two African American women would head the new union (Lewis, ChickenBones). The MFU’s first attempt at organizing a union at a nursing home ended in losses, but it gained some success in organizing small retail stores which sparked some concern from the Retail Clerks Union (Lewis, ChickenBones).

Stu Wechsler was a CORE rep whose first involvement with civil rights began as a Freedom Rider from New York who challenged discrimination in restaurants along Maryland’s US route 40 in 1961. Just as Alabama and Mississippi had Freedom Riders, so did Maryland.  CORE’s Target City project was run by National CORE and, according to Stu Wechsler and others, the brashness and militancy created tension between the national staff and leaders in the local chapter. CORE explained its choice of Baltimore as a Target city by declaring “that Baltimore embodies all the evil attributes of the South and all of the more subtle and discriminatory patterns of the North.” There was of course the Maryland cultural ethos of moderation but the mere suggestion that Baltimore was behind in ending discrimination angered local leaders such as NAACP leader Juanita Mitchell who at this particular point in history believed they had been making progress for many years. 

Indeed they had, but at a pace that was increasingly unsatisfactory to younger emerging leaders and their organizations. There was also a growing list of class related issues  (Baum, 2010). The movement had been successful in the battle over public accommodations and was in the midst of trying to get open housing. To some of the younger leaders these were seen as middle class issues and they thought other issues such as jobs, income, and housing for the poor were more relevant. They also saw the need to take new approaches to education twelve  years after the Supreme Court, in theory , had declared “Separate but Equal” un-constitutional.

The 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act had paved the way for claiming the political strength of the “Black South” by electing African Americans to Congress, state legislative bodies, and local school boards. To build real power, we would need to organize poor and working class blacks. In 1968 Baltimore and the nation was not prepared for King’s assassination.  The African American working class would win a major victory when Baltimore City sanitation workers won collective bargaining rights after striking with community support.

In conclusion, the convergence of social issues, media coverage, and social unrest created the nexus for the motivation of Baltimore’s health care workers and the success of the 1969 campaign.  In Anthony Downs’s analysis of the “Issue Attention Cycle,” he would call this the alarmed discovery stage of a social issue when the public has moved to “alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm” (Downs, 1972).  King was committed to finding a way to bring together various groups in America who faced the same problems of poverty, and to shine the light on the plight of the poor.  Thus the Poor People’s Campaign was born, and paved the way for the Baltimore victory of hospital workers.

The unity in the African American community also paved the way for the election of Parren Mitchell, who became the first African American Congressman elected below the Mason Dixon line—the state’s first ever. Homer Favor (economic professor) who came to SNCC’s assistance during the flap over who could speak for the black community belonged to an informal group called the “Goon Squad,” who on more than one occasion built a barrier of support for healthcare and public employees.

This is but one example of the need for the labor movement to act in conjunction with community leaders.  Forty years later, the movement still needs to do so, but our difficulty is that we often have a racially divided community. We have often fell victim to the notion that the wants of “Individuals” is superior to the needs of the greater community. In the early days of the CIO it embraced community leaders and radicals of very diverse ideologies providing them with committed organizers who put their bodies and souls on the line for working class unity. When they believed they were senior partners in the firm of “BB and BG” they cast out their idealists for a seat at the table leading the world to a commitment to insuring that in the words of George P Mahoney, a man’s home is his castle regardless of his neighbor’s needs.


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1Fred Punch was recruited after a successful organizing drive at St. Barnabus Hospital in the Bronx where he led the rank and file organizing victory.

2Interview conducted 9/27/2011

3Interview conducted 9/28/2011

4Interview conducted 11/01/2011

5 Interview conducted 10/28/2011

6U-JOIN was a part of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Economic Research Action Project starting in the summer of 1964 as Northern Community urban organizing project to complement SNCC’S Mississippi Freedom Summer.

7The BSEIU would later become the Service Employees International Union. In 1990 Local 1199E-DC, the local that resulted from Local 1199’s victory in 1969, became a SEIU local union.

8Although Leon Davis was president most 1199 organizers viewed Godoff as an organizing guru and credited him with 1199s organizing successes. I too learned to think of him as near flawless in his organizing strategies.  


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1199E-DC, S. E. (2004). Putting Baltimore’s People First Keys to Responsible Economic Development of Our City. Baltimore, MD.

AP. (1968, January 20). “Negro Workers Picket Steel Firm.” The Washington Post, Times Herald .

Baum, H. S. (2010). Brown in Baltimore, School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Brugger, R. J. (1988). Maryland, A Middle Temperament 1634-1980. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Cohen, L. (2008). Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Downs, A. (1972). “Up and Down with Ecology: ‘The Issue Attention Cycle’.” The Public Interest 28 (Summer), 38 – 50.

Durr, K. D. (2003). Behind The Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980. Chapel Hill : The University of North Carolina Press.

Elfenbein, J. I., Hollowak, T. L., & Nix, E. M. (2011). Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Fee, E., Shopes, L., & Zeidman, L. (1991). The Baltimore Book. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Fink, L., & Greenberg, B. (1989). Upheaval in the Quiet Zone: A History of Hospital Workers’ Union Local 1199. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Fink, L., & Greenberg, B. (2009). Upheaval in the Quiet Zone, 1199 SEIU and the Politics of Health Care Unionism; 2nd edition. Urbana and Chicago IL: University of Illinois Press.

Foner, P. S., & Lewis, R. L. (1978). The Black Worker from Colonial Times to 1869. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Foner, P. S., & Lewis, R. L. (1978). The Black Worker: Era of the National Labor Union. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Hayden, T. (2009). The Long Sixties From 1960 To Barack Obama. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Henry, B. (2011, September 27). “A Seat at The Table.” (B. Moore, Interviewer)

Lewis, R. (n.d.). Maryland Freedom Union Files.”   Blacks, Unions & Organizing in the South (1956-1996). Retrieved December 15, 2011

Lucy, W. (2011, October 28). “Memphis 1968.” (R. B. Moore, Interviewer)

Lynton, S. J. (1968, February 8). “Anti-Crime Plans Termed ‘War on the Black Community’.” Baltimore Morning Sun .

Lynton, S. J. (1968, February 10). “Six Negroes Issue Warning On Race-Based Crime War.” The Baltimore Morning Sun .

Michel, G. L. (1997). “Union Power, Soul Power: Unionizing Johns Hopkins University Hospital, 1959-1974.” Labor History-Routledge,  28-66.

Pietila, A. (2010). Not in my Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City. Chicago, Il.: Ivan R Dee Publisher.

“Revolt of the Hospital Workers.” (1971, March). Ebony Magazine, Vol. 26 (5) Retrieved from EBSCOhost. , pp. 53-58.

Weschler, S. (2011, September 28). “Target City CORE.” (B. Moore, Interviewer)

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1199 Organizing Hopkins / 1199 Wins / Fred Punch & 1199 Workers

SCLC & Hospital Workers


Eleanor Roosevelt on 1199  / Fred Punch & Black Students


Upheaval in the Quiet Zone: A History of Hospital Workers’ Union Local 1199. By Leon Fink and Brian Greenberg. Illustrated. 298 pages. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Cloth, $24.95. Paper, $9.95.

There was always a certain romance to the organizing of the hospital workers’ union, Local 1199 of the Drug, Hospital and Health Care Employees. These were the humblest of all laborers, the bedpan carriers, the bottle washers and laundrymen. They were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. They were paid abysmally. And yet when it came time to stand up for their rights, in a series of strikes and tough negotiations in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, their courage, dignity and discipline were breathtaking. Martin Luther King Jr. called 1199 ”my favorite union.”

But there was a more subtle romance at work here as well: the organizing of the hospital workers was the last dance for the generation of Jewish tough-guy labor organizers – many of them Communists – who had helped create the C.I.O. in the 1930’s and were then purged when the cold war began. There were echoes of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Popular Front in the building of 1199, led by a trio of professional organizers – Leon Davis, Elliott Godoff and Moe Foner – who survived the witch hunts by hiding out in a small ”progressive” pharmacists’ local, and who represented the most benign face of a malignant ideology


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The steel strike of 1959 was a 1959 labor union strike by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) against major steel-making companies in the United States. The strike occurred over management’s demand that the union give up a contract clause which limited management’s ability to change the number of workers assigned to a task or to introduce new work rules or machinery which would result in reduced hours or numbers of employees. The strike’s effects persuaded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to invoke the back-to-work provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. The union sued to have the Act declared unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court upheld the law. The union eventually retained the contract clause and won minimal wage increases. On the other hand, the strike led to significant importation of foreign steel for the first time in U.S. history, which replaced the domestic steel industry in the long run. . . .

Prior to the 1959 strike, the major American steel companies were reporting high profits. This led David J. McDonald and Steelworkers general counsel Arthur J. Goldberg to request a major wage increase. But industry negotiators refused to grant a wage increase unless McDonald agreed to substantially alter or eliminate Section 2(b) of the union’s national master contract. Section 2(b) of the steelworkers’ contract limited management’s ability to change the number of workers assigned to a task or to introduce new work rules or machinery which would result in reduced hours or lower numbers of employees. Management claimed that this constituted featherbedding and reduced the competitiveness of the American steel industry. McDonald characterized management’s proposals as an attempt to break the union. Negotiations broke off, and the contract expired on July 1, 1959.—


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What We Want

By Stokely Carmichael

A Christian Goon Squad in Black Baltimore 

Clarence Logan and the Northwood Movement  /

Reverend Marion Bascom Civilrighting

Roy Wilkins and Spiro Agnew in Annapolis  /  Agnew Speaks to Black Baltimore Leaders 1968

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Walter Hall Lively   Forty Years of Determined Struggle 

Putting Baltimore’s People First  Dominance of Johns Hopkins   A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore

Understanding the Monumental City: A Bibliographic Essay on Baltimore History (

Richard J. Cox)

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The End of Black Rage?  (Jared Ball) / The Black Generation Gap (Ellis Cose) 

Freedom’s Port: The African American Community of Baltimore (

Christopher Phillips)

*   *   *   *   *’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

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to accept—or at least endure—the universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection.

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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story

of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

By Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer

American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest.

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A Matter of Justice

Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution

By David. A. Nichols

David A. Nichols  takes us inside the Oval Office to look over Ike’s shoulder as he worked behind the scenes, prior to Brown, to desegregate the District of Columbia and complete the desegregation of the armed forces. We watch as Eisenhower, assisted by his close collaborator, Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., sifted through candidates for federal judgeships and appointed five pro-civil rights justices to the Supreme Court and progressive judges to lower courts. We witness Eisenhower crafting civil rights legislation, deftly building a congressional coalition that passed the first civil rights act in eighty-two years, and maneuvering to avoid a showdown with Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, over desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High. Nichols demonstrates that Eisenhower, though he was a product of his time and its backward racial attitudes, was actually more progressive on civil rights in the 1950s than his predecessor, Harry Truman, and his successors, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. . . .  In fact, Eisenhower’s actions laid the legal and political groundwork for the more familiar breakthroughs in civil rights achieved in the 1960s.

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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)

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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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posted 3 May 2012




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Related files:  Putting Baltimore’s People First  Dominance of Johns Hopkins   A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore   Walter Hall Lively   Root Song   

 The Big Boys  Industrial Me   Poem at Central Booking      Henry Nicholas on Social Justice  Last Man Standing  Understanding “Last Man Standing” 

The Political Thought of James Forman  The Politics of Public Housing  The Orangeburg Massacre and Its Aftermath  Forty Years of Determined Struggle