ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
When monopolies jeopardize the safety of the country, they
can no longer be trusted in private hands to use them for a
profit. That is my private philosophy
Labor’s Problem: Real Wages
By Carroll Thompson
The Labor movement in America received its initial momentum from leaders who fought and fought hard for more, now, for the workingman. John Mitchell, John Brophy, John L. Lewis and even, in a slightly different sense, Samuel Gompers, all were interested primarily in higher money wages for the men they represented.
Nor can these leaders be censured for the short-term view they held. In the days before strong union organization, working conditions for the American laborer, both skilled and unskilled, cried out to heaven for immediate relief. The long-term good of the community and particularly of the capitalist system simply ceased to have importance until the workingman could get enough to eat.
In 1950, seventy-year-old John L. Lewis still holds to the short-range viewpoint. He has broadened his labor philosophy to include a notable fight for pensions and compensation for his own men. He has not broadened it sufficiently to include a comprehensive understanding of the American economy and the long-range place of coal in the economy. As natural gas and various forms of fuel oil displace King Coal, Lewis and the miners he represents must at least begin to wonder whether their present stubborn tactics will benefit the next generation of miners. So far, even if they have wondered about the future, they have been concerned with here and now.
Gradually, however, a new type of labor leader is appearing in the United States: educated, intellectual, and often sharply differentiated from the laboring men he represents. Such a man is Walter Reuther of the United Automobile Workers of America, C.I.O
Labor will not make progress toward the high standard of living it is able to produce so long as it seeks to advance its own interests without regard to the interests of all other workers and of the community of which it is a part. We shall hold on to our gains only by making progress with the communitynot at the expense of the community.
So speaks Walter Reuther, who makes no attempt to hide his contempt for the old nickel-in-the-pay envelope philosophy.
This philosophy, obviously, deviates rather sharply from the bargaining opportunism of old-style labor leaders. Yet Reuther owes his position as President of the U.A.W. in part at least to his ability to grasp opportunities for shrewd bargaining. He is not completely the idealist the above question would make him. Is he then sincere? Is he really a new labor leader, or simply a man with the ability to write appealingly? Who is Walter Reuther and how did he become the most talked-about labor leader, next to Lewis, in the United States today
In 1932, when John L. Lewis was giving all his support to Hoover in the election campaign against Franklin D. Roosevelt, it would have been hard to find anyone in Detroit who knew Walter Reuther. In the early days of the New Deal, when Lewis was busy with Section 7a of the N.R.A., the young and unknown toolmaker was working at the Gorki auto factory deep in the Soviet Union, teaching toolmaking to inexperienced Russians. Not until 1935 did Reuther appear on the labor union scene in the United States. But a bare 15 years later, he was acknowledged one of the leading labor spokesmen of his time.
Although Walter Reuther did not grow up in the coal mines or the cigar factories, his childhood and early training prepared him well for his union career. Young Reuther was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on September 7, 1907, the second son of Valentine Reuther, a German immigrant. Walters father worked in a brewery for $1.50 daily, and was very active in local union affairs at the time his son was born
Many of Reuthers later ideas can be traced back to his fathers influence. Valentine Reuther was an ardent Socialist, and ran for Congress on the Socialist ticket. He brought from his native land a strong blend of Lutheranism and the German Social Democratic tradition. Although the Reuther family was by no means well off, they were not subjected to that grinding poverty and fear of starvation which haunted John L. Lewis and John Mitchell during their formative years.
Walter grew up in an atmosphere intensely serious, politically self-conscious, socially extroverted, and this atmosphere shaped the philosophy of the man he was to become. Through his father he got an early introduction to the American labor movement, with an accent on its intellectual and socialistic aspects.
The Reuther family was intellectual, but it could not afford to keep teen-age sons in school. At the age of 16 Walter had to leave the Wheeling High School and become an apprentice toolmaker. His first job was singularly unsuccessfulhe was soon discharged for labor agitation. The ceiling on wages in Wheeling was around 40 cents an hour and Sunday work was required. So after three years, Reuther left for Detroit and the fabulous wages of the auto industry there.
After working a 13-hour night shift at Briggs for 85 cents an hour, young Reuther talked his way into a job at the Ford plant as a tool-and-die man for $1.10 an hour. The evening hours of the job left him free to pursue high school studies by day. Reuther not only completed his high school course, but enrolled in Wayne University where he studied social sciences for three years.
When Reuther arrived in Detroit, the automobile center was definitely and powerfully an open-shop city. Automobile management was violently anti-union and in any case the A.F.L. craft unions were not set up to organize automobile assembly-line workers. In 1926, as today, Detroit was almost a single-industry citythe city devoted to the manufacture of the automobile.
It had and has a large Southern population. This group, relatively ignorant, found work at low rates. A large part is colored. Detroit also includes a large Polish population. Interracial and international tensions were and still are acute.
These frictions did not make it easier to organize a labor-union movement in the automobile industry. But young enthusiasts like Reuther were inspired by the depression and the New Deal to agitate for unionization at Ford and at other big plants. The outcome of such projects was inevitable. In 1933, when unemployment gripped the entire nation, Reuther was fired from Ford for union agitation.
Reuther Travels to Europe
It is significant that Reuther and his brother Victor decided to seize this opportunity to take the grand tour of the world! In England, they visited coal pits and textile mills as well as auto plants; they were shaken by the Nazi hold on their fathers native Germany; they went to work with enthusiasm in Russia. (Later, Reuther, like so many others, was to lose all his enthusiasm for the Russian experiment and become violently anti-Soviet.)
Walter Reuthers education was considerably broadened by his travels abroad. Now he returned to Detroit with a purpose: to make unionization his life-time work. He found a job with General Motors and threw his whole strength into the campaign to organize the auto workers. In 1935, he collected several small and struggling locals into Local 174 and became its president by election. In 1936, when he represented this local at the South Bend Convention, his natural ability made him a logical choice for the United Automobile Workers Executive Board.
Reuther did not fail to take his share of the tough and dirty work of union organization in Detroit. In the 1937 struggle to organize the Ford plant, Reuther took part in the famous battle of the overpass, where he was severely beaten by Ford Service Men. This beating he described later in some detail:
They picked me up about eight different times and threw me down on my back on the concrete. I was on the ground they kicked me in the face, head and other parts of my body. I never raised a hand. After they kicked me down the stairs, then they started to hit me at the bottom of the stairs, hit me and slugged, driving me before them but never letting me get away.
For Reuther, this brutal experience seems to have been suffered in the line of duty, and made him no more nor less bitter against his industrial antagonists. But when he was again beaten by toughs in his home in 1938 Reuther claimed that the men were part of the Ford Service Department. Incidents such as this, at any rate, were by no means isolated in Detroit in the thirties.
The Growth & Success of the UAW
Reuthers exceptional ability was, meantime, becoming even more evident. His local grew in membership from 78 to 30,000 in the space of one year. As a full-time labor organizer, Reuther helped organize strike after strike for union recognition. He was prominent in the sit-down strike at the Kelsey-Hayes wheel factory, an amazing success, and participated in the General Motors sit-down strikes of 193637
By May, 1936, the U.A.W. had decided to reject the A.F.L. The president of the auto workers union was Homer Martin, a former Missouri Baptist minister and a gifted agitator, but a leader of limited ability. Experienced Wyndham Mortimer was vice-president, George Addes, secretary-treasurer, and Walter Reuther was a member of the executive board.
The U.A.W. has always maintained an interest in the relationship between auto profits and wages. Before the major General Motors sit-down strike began, organizers had been arguing that: The year in which G.M.s profits were $228,000,000, the workers average wage was slightly over $1,100. Between January, 1934, and July, 1936, the corporation spent close to $1,000,000 for plant espionage. Speedups again and again. . . .
The success of the General Motors strike, thanks partly to John L. Lewis and partly to the then Governor, Frank Murphy, strengthened the automobile union immeasurably. In a few short weeks its membership doubled, reaching 200,000. By 1937, union membership had increased to 350,000 (from a 1935 roll of 30,000).
Deep factional rifts in the rapidly growing union were probably inevitable: Martin was a poor leader and anti-Martin groups were gaining strength. Among these groups were the Communist Party section and, a smaller unit, the socialist segment led by Walter Reuther. Martin finally tried to split the union in 1939 and take his group out of the C.I.O. But most of the membership stuck to the C.I.O. and elected another chief of uncertain ability, R. J. Thomas, who had been proposed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
This election, unfortunately, and the elimination of Homer Martin, did not solve the underlying conflicts within the union, which remained to haunt the auto workers. The Stalinists proved themselves a major thorn in the side of the U.A.W. until Reuther finally defeated them in 1947.
Throughout the period of U.A.W. conflict, Walter Reuther was proving himself a man of exceptional ability. As a union organizer and a strike strategist he was clearly a master opportunist. His approach to everyday union problems was pragmatic. U.A.W. members were able to credit him with very concrete wage and other gains in the late thirties and during the war years.
Yet Reuther matches his opportunism with a rather idealistic social philosophy. In recent years, the U.A.W. has seen fit to minimize the socialistic trend of Reuthers thinking and his onetime membership in the Socialist Party is seldom mentioned. Those interested in his philosophy, however, can hardly miss some of the socialistic influences which underlie it.
Walter Reuther undoubtedly learned much from his Socialist father and from his fathers friends. He was at one time an ardent supporter of Norman Thomas. Irving Howe and B. J. Widick quote from a dialogue between Reuther and G. M. leader Harry Coen during the 1946 wage negotiations:
Reuther: I think when monopolies like the aluminum industry, owned 85 per cent nowadays, and magnesium, when the monopolies jeopardize the safety of the country, they can no longer be trusted in private hands to use them for a profit. That is my private philosophy. . . .
Coen: It colors all your thinking. . . . You cant talk about this thing without exposing your socialistic desires.
Reuther: If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist.
During the economic crisis of World War II, Reuther had ample opportunity to display the more intellectual side of his thinking. Old-style union leaders deplored his fancy economics and U.A.W. President Thomas contented himself with restating pork-chop unionism.
Reuther Plan: Joint Management (Labor-Business)
But Reuther was busy working out a coherent approach to the role of labor in a war economy. One of his first propels was the plan for manufacturing 500 planes a day with idle auto manufacturing equipment. Reuther called attention to the fact that the auto industry was running at only half its capacity. He assembled figures on unused tools, on available space, on idle manpower.
Even some of Reuthers supporters were skeptical of the production goal he set. But the social implications of the plan were far-reaching for labor. Equipment and manpower were to be pooled and labor was to participate jointly with management and government in the executive direction of the setup
It was a foregone conclusion that former G.M. president William Knudsen would not take to a plan which called for union participation in the functions of management. Although the basic concept of utilizing idle auto plants for war production was subsequently adopted by the auto industry, the Reuther plan was dropped with little comment.
During the war, Reuther made every effort to keep the union from threatening strikes and from demanding pay rises which would add to inflationary pressures. At the same time, he took a firm, and highly popular stand, on the Communist proposal to offer incentive pay as a substitute for straight wage increases. The incentive pay plan was simply a refined version of piecework proposals and would have led to a brutal speedup in Detroit. Reuther regarded this as a backward step, despite pressure brought on the U.A.W. to accept the plan.
Post-War Unionism: Labor Studies Economy
The end of the war saw Reuther hard at work on his famous plan to datethe plan to force General Motors to grant a 30 per cent wage increase without price increases in General Motors cars. For one thing Reuther was able to show that in 1941, during the war, General Motors employees produced $1.07 for themselves and $1.09 for General Motors for every hour they worked. The corporation had made a profit that year of $510,836,000.
On June 30, 1945, Reuther laid his project before the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, and the War Labor Board. Here, at last, was a suggested solution to the inflationary problem. Labor was pressing hard for wage increases to match rising prices. If Reuther was right, such increases could be granted without permitting further price rises in industry. Reuther had made a careful study of the situation:
Labor contends that the economic facts of life prove that wages can be increased without increasing prices. Increased production must be supported by increased consumption, and increased consumption will be possible only through increased wages. . . . Industry can afford to pay higher wages out of the high profits it is making. It will not have to charge higher prices.
On August 18 of the same year Reuther asked General Motors for a 30 per cent wage increase without an increase in the price of their cars. He outlined his position with some care:
We are convinced, he declared, as a result of our arithmetic, based on published facts about the auto industry, about General Motors past performance, about costs, prices, profits and the certainty of a market for capacity production for the next three years, that General Motors should and can pay 30 per cent higher wage rates without increasing prices and at the same time make profits higher than the prewar level.
To General Motors immediate protest that Reuther was misinformed and mistaken, the U.A.W. President replied simply: Open the books.
The intimation first of all that a labor union could negotiate a wage increase with a proviso prohibiting price increases was bitterly contested by auto industrialists. Price fixing, it was maintained, was a distinct and independent function of management and of no concern to the union whatsoever.
The outright demand that General Motors should open its books to union representatives was viewed with even more alarm. The U.A.W., according to General Motors, was trying to pry its way into the whole field of management.. Reuther explained to a government fact-find board that:
We have made the fight . . . to get the companys books and records not because we want to indulge in the pleasure of going through their books. . . . But the company wouldnt take up the challenge and wouldnt argue the facts, so the only way we could meet that problem is to say Open the books because we knew that if they did open the books the figures and the arithmetic would confirm the unions economic conclusions
The mere demand for a look at the books was not nearly so revolutionary in actual fact as the basic assumption Reuther made that prices should be included as a logical subject for collective bargaining. Reuther himself had no illusions that his proposal would have far-reaching effects. In the course of the negotiations he had declared that:
The grim fact is that if free enterprise in America is to survive, it has got to work . . . it must demonstrate more than an ability to create earnings for providing full employment at a high standard of living, rising year by year to keep pace with the annual increase in technological efficiency. . . . The fight of the General Motors workers is a fight to save truly free enterprise from death at the hands of its self-appointed champions.
Most unfortunately, neither the rest of the C.I.O. nor the Administration was willing to back up the Reuther program. A fact-finding board appointed by President Truman to investigate the General Motors dispute declared that General Motors could pay a 19½ cent hourly wage increase without raising car prices. Yet the Administration did not stand on this policy. When the steel industry put pressure on the O.P.A. for price increases in conjunction with wage increases these were approved.
A steel wage gain of 18½ cents led to a price increase of $5 per ton. Then the inflationary spiral began to whirl once more. Union after union abandoned the Reuther formula and settled for wage increases irrespective of price plans.
Finally, on February 12, the United Electric Workers, C.I.O., signed a contract with General Motors, accepting a wage rise of 18½ cents hourly for 30,000 workers. Phil Murray continued to urge Reuther to abandon his program. Events finally forced the U.A.W. to take a wage increase and forget about prices. But Reuther did not change his mind about the basic necessity of tying prices to wages. When John L. Lewis termed his position stupid, Reuther is said to have replied:
We dont agree with John L. Lewis wage-price theory. His theory is that we will soak the public a dollar more per ton of coal, and you get fifty cents of it and the operator fifty cents. We dont think that is the way to increase purchasing power. We want to increase purchasing power by holding down prices and raising wages so that people can buy more things.
Unfortunately for Reuther, the American union movement was not willing or not yet ready to accept the implications of his new unionism. Although Reuther won the presidency of the U.A.W. at the 1946 convention, the margin was narrow (104 votes) and the executive board was packed with Reuthers union opponents.
Now Reuther was confronted with bitter factionalism, based more on disagreement with the Communists than on broad social objectives. Finally, at the 1947 Convention, Reuther won a complete victory and his supporters controlled the executive board as well. Reuthers triumph was hailed widely as a victory for conservatism against communism within the union. To some extent this was correct. But this appraisal leaves out of account the Reuther social program. As Reuther himself remarked, as the convention closed:
If the editorial writers . . . write that the U.A.W. and the leadership in this convention are drifting toward a more conservative policy, I say to those editorial writers that they are wrong, because this convention and its leadership is committed to the kind of militant, fighting trade union program that will mobilize not only our union but the people in America in support of an aggressive overall economic, social and political program.
In 1949, Reuther again had ample opportunity to demonstrate his practical nature and his social idealism. In October of that year he won an agreement from the Ford Motor Company for non-contributory pensions for union members. The terms of the new contract were greeted as the most important C.I.O. victory of 1949. Approximately 112,000 workers at the age of 65 and after 30 years of service with the Ford company were to be eligible for the $100 monthly pensions, which included Social Security. The company assumed all expenses of the plan. These were estimated at around $20,000,000 yearlyeight and three quarters cents an hour per worker covered by the contract.
Unquestionably, practical achievements of this nature account for most of Reuthers popularity within the labor movement. Unlike many other leaders, Reuther is by no means a typical automobile worker. It has become fashionable in recent years to explain John L. Lewis by labeling him a typical product of the American mining industry. In this sense, Reuther is not Lewis counterpart. Between himself and the rank and file membership of the U.A.W. lies a wide gulf. Reuther depends for the support on his ability to lead the rank and file rather than to seem one of them.
In appearance, in personality, Reuther would seem to be more typical of the educated managerial group. His interest in economic theory supports this appraisal. Far from fading out after the G.M. rebuff, his interests remain as strong as ever. In 1949 Reuther was busy promoting a new projectthis time the production of prefabricated houses in idle aircraft factories. This plan Reuther had been working on since the war ended.
In a pamphlet he wrote in 1945, The Challenge of Peace, Reuther argued that the idle aircraft factories could be retooled to build 20,000,000 prefabricated dwellings in a 10 year period.
The project which Reuther outlined in great detail before the Senate Banking Committee on February, 1949, called for the expenditure of $120,000,000,000 over a 60-year period. According to his estimates, a two-bedroom house with all functional equipment could be built to sell for about $6,000. Private enterprise, supported by government expenditures, would be asked to carry out the scheme.
There is no space here to discuss the technical and practical manufacturing difficulties of the program. At the present time, there is more than one prefabricated house on the market selling for under $10,000; this probably means that Reuthers $6,000 figure is not too far from reality. Whether idle aircraft machinery could be utilized is another question.
But the plan, regardless of its practical merits, interests us because of its possible social implications. It is extremely likely that private industry would not be able to cope with so large a project, and that private competition would not be practical. This objection, for Reuther, seems inconsequential; his socialistic philosophy is appearing here in a slightly new garb.
Even more interesting, from the standpoint of these articles, is Reuthers assumption that housing is the concern of the labor union. This is a far cry indeed from the nickel in-the-pay-envelope philosophy, from pork-chop unionism. Here, indeed, is a new development in C.I.O. unionism.
For Samuel Gompers, an intellectual something like Reuther (see Current History, March, 1950), the union was to be something more than a bargaining instrument for wages and hours. Gompers had very real interests in the education of the workers and the betterment of their cultural environment.
Such an attitude, however, has by no means been typical of the industrial unionism of America. The United Mine Workers, for example, has made little or no effort in the direction of better education or housing for miners.
Under the leadership of John L. Lewis the union has watched coal operators price themselves right out of some of their old-time markets. Nor has Lewis ever shown any interest in restraining spiraling prices. His hostility to the O.P.A. during World War II may have sprung from his hostility to Frank D. Roosevelt, but his attitude toward coal prices at all times, and toward the Reuther price-wage projects shows that he is not concerned with the problem.
More than any union leader of this series, Walter Reuther is grappling with the basic problem of raising labor real wage, and of finding a more equitable position for labor within the framework of the national economy. It is clear to Reuther, and to most disinterested observers of the economic scene, that higher wages coupled with rising prices offer little hope of bettering the position of the workingman. It is equally to Reuther that the long-term union philosophy must accept some responsibility for the national economic well-being, in war and in peace.
Hence the Reuther plans for utilizing idle equipment, whether such equipment is to be used to manufacture aircraft in war-time or housing in peace-time. A healthy national economy, which is probably the only guarantee of improving working conditions for the union members, presupposes a minimum of idle equipment and a minimum of idle manpower.
At this writing, Walter Reuther is regarded by many as the outstanding new-type labor leader. Yet Reuther has his enemies. Since his rise to prominence, three acts of criminal violence has been perpetrated against him, his family, or his union. On April 20, 1948, an assassin shot him through a window of his home from a distance of 15 feet.
By a seeming miracle, Reuther escaped death, but suffered a badly mauled arm which kept him hospitalized for some time. In May, 1949, a similar attempt cost Victor Reuther one eye. Again, the assassin shot through a house window at short range, again the same type shotgun was used. Victor Reuther, Walters brother, is educational director of the United Automobile Workers. A third attempted crime occurred in December, 1949, when someone attempted to dynamite the U.A.W. building in Detroit. Every labor leader has enemiesfew seem as ruthless and relentless as these.
Walter Reuther has commented that his shooting could be the work of Communists, die-hard employers, or a screw-ball. In truth, the crimes could be laid to almost anyone. They remain unsolved at this writing.
Reuther has his enemies, indeed. He also has his faults. In his drive against the Communists in the U.A.W., Reuther revealed that opposition irritates him. The anti-Communist drive in 1949 is a case in point. So was Reuthers reaction to the supporters of Henry Wallace in 1948.
Like most public leaders, Reuther seems to have a liking for power. And the leadership of one of the most powerful unions in the United States undoubtedly humors this liking.In addition, Reuther probably has had difficulty reconciling his economic and social philosophy with practical union tactics. In such tactics he excels. But his resignation from the Socialist Party did not free him from a basic dilemma faced by every good, practical leader. Reuther so far has been governed by practical opportunism. No other course would enable him to maintain his position and his influence in the labor movement. But there can be no doubt that Reuther recognizes the broader aspects of labors struggle for economic betterment.
More than that, Reuther believes wholeheartedly that these broader aspects have a more permanent importance than the mere struggle for another nickel an hour. He is willing to go on record time and again with projects for the improvement of the national economy, with little regard for their popularity.
And, more significant, he seems to be trying to educate the labor movement to a realization of its new role in the American industrial scene.
Source: Current History, May, 1950
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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. Elisabeth tells of the security measures her family endured as numerous assassination attempts were made on her father’s life. Her first memory, a shotgun blast that nearly killed her father, taught her that he had numerous enemies who were trying to stop him. Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater and J. Edgar Hoover never tired of trying to destroy Reuther’s voice. This is an inspiring story of a true working class hero.
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By Derrick Bell
In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school’s hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell’s fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard’s president and all of the school’s black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.
Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell’s And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.Publishers Weekly
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Representing the Race tells the story of an enduring paradox of American race relations, through the prism of a collective biography of African American lawyers who worked in the era of segregation. . . . Mack reorients what we thought we knew about famous figures such as Thurgood Marshall, who rose to prominence by convincing local blacks and prominent whites that he wasas nearly as possibleone of them. But he also introduces a little-known cast of characters to the American racial narrative. These include Loren Miller, the biracial Los Angeles lawyer who, after learning in college that he was black, became a Marxist critic of his fellow black attorneys and ultimately a leading civil rights advocate; and Pauli Murray, a black woman who seemed neither black nor white, neither man nor woman, who helped invent sex discrimination as a category of law. The stories of these lawyers pose the unsettling question: what, ultimately, does it mean to represent a minority group in the give-and-take of American law and politics? /
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In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.
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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.
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By Michelle Alexander
The mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites. Most people seem to imagine that the drug warwhich has swept millions of poor people of color behind barshas been aimed at rooting out drug kingpins or violent drug offenders. Nothing could be further from the truth. This war has been focused overwhelmingly on low-level drug offenses, like marijuana possessionthe very crimes that happen with equal frequency in middle class white communities.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 8 July 2012