Long before the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s made a frontal assault on the reigning segregationist order, African American workers had to struggle against both their employers and fellow white workers. Because their efforts to secure their workplace rights pitted them against the broader structures of racial oppression, their activism constituted nothing less than a form of civil rights struggle.
Uniting the latest scholarship on race, labor, and civil rights, The Black Worker aims to establish the richness of the African American working-class experience, and the indisputable role of black workers in shaping the politics and history of labor and race in the United States.
To capture the complexity of African Americans’ experiences in the workplace, this reader examines workers engaged in a wide array of jobs, including sharecropping, coal mining, domestic service, longshoring, automobile manufacturing, tobacco processing, railroading, prostitution, lumbering, and municipal employment. The essays’ subjects include black migration, strikebreaking, black conservatism, gender, and the multiple forms of employment discrimination in the South and North. Other contributions deal explicitly with state policy and black workers during the transition from slavery to freedom, World Wars I and II, and the 1960s.
The variety of challenges made by these workers, both quiet and overt, served as clear reminders to the supporters of white supremacy that, despite their best efforts through violence, fraud, and the law, as long as they insisted on racial inequality, the “race question” would never be fully resolved.
Contributors: Eric Arnesen, Beth Tompkins Bates, Cynthia M. Blair, Tera W. Hunter, William Powell Jones, Brian Kelly, Robert Korstad, Nelson Lichtenstein, Joseph A. McCartin, Steven A. Reich, Leslie A. Schwalm, Nan Elizabeth Woodruff
From the time the first tracks were laid in the early nineteenth century, the railroad has occupied a crucial place in America's historical imagination. Now, for the first time, Eric Arnesen gives us an untold piece of that vital American institution—the story of African Americans on the railroad.
African Americans have been a part of the railroad from its inception, but today they are largely remembered as Pullman porters and track layers. The real history is far richer, a tale of endless struggle, perseverance, and partial victory. In a sweeping narrative, Arnesen re-creates the heroic efforts by black locomotive firemen, brakemen, porters, dining car waiters, and redcaps to fight a pervasive system of racism and job discrimination fostered by their employers, white co-workers, and the unions that legally represented them even while barring them from membership.
Decades before the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the mid-1950s, black railroaders forged their own brand of civil rights activism, organizing their own associations, challenging white trade unions, and pursuing legal redress through state and federal courts. In recapturing black railroaders' voices, aspirations, and challenges, Arnesen helps to recast the history of black protest and American labor in the twentieth century.
Is class outmoded as a basis for understanding labor history? This collection emphatically answers, "No!" These thirteen essays delve into subjects like migrant labor, religion, ethnicity, agricultural history, and gender. Written by former students of preeminent labor figure and historian David Montgomery, the works advance the argument that class remains indispensable to the study of working Americans and their place in the broad drama of our shared national history.
"During the nineteenth century, American and foreign travelers often found New Orleans a delightful, exotic stop on their journeys; few failed to marvel at the riverfront, the center of the city's economic activity. . . . But absent from the tourism industry's historical recollection is any reference to the immigrants or black migrants and their children who constituted the army of laborers along the riverfront and provided the essential human power to keep the cotton, sugar, and other goods flowing. . . . In examining one diverse group of workers--the 10,000 to 15,000 cotton screwmen, longshoremen, cotton and round freight teamsters, cotton yardmen, railroad freight handlers, and Mississippi River roustabouts--this book focuses primarily on the workplace and the labor movement that emerged along the waterfront."--From the preface