Black Workers in the Early 20th Century: Art, Activism & Inclusion
The Black working class • Black men worked in factories, mines, and mills • Usually paid less than white men • White men claimed blacks robbed them of jobs • Black women worked for white families • Cooks, laundresses, and maids • Black workers were often used as strikebreakers
Black Workers by Major Industrial Group, 1920 • Figure 17–1. Black Workers by Major Industrial Group, 1920 • By 1920 thousands of African Americans had moved to northern cities and were employed in a variety of mostly unskilled and low-paying industrial jobs that nonetheless paid more than farm labor. Still, agriculture remained the largest single source of employment among black people, and agriculture and domestic service together employed more than two-thirds of African-American men and women. About 5 percent were employed in “white-collar” jobs. Source: Sterling D. Spero and Abram L. Harris, The Black Worker: The Negro and the Labor Movement (1928), 81.
Although most southern black people worked long hours in cotton fields, thousands toiled in factories, mills, and mines. Here black women stem tobacco in a Virginia factory under the supervision of a white man.
Unions • Often excluded black men in late 19th century • Knights of Labor, 1869 • Open to black men and women, but lost power to the American Federation of Labor, 1886 which initially barred women and black tradesmen • United Mine Workers, 1890 • Encouraged black coal miners to join • The Industrial Workers of the World, 1905 • Encouraged black coal miners to join • National Colored Labor Union, 1869 • African Americans fought in various ways to organize in unions & advocate for improved working conditions and better jobs • These efforts were influenced greatly by the Depression and New Deal
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters • Pullman Palace Car Company founded by George Pullman in 1867 • 12,000 black porters by the 1920s • A. Philip Randolph was asked to lead the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in 1925 at a meeting in Harlem • The BSCP used the slogan “service not servitude” • BSCP had to fight the Pullman Company and even the black press for recognition as a legitimate union
A. Philip Randolph • In this painting by Betsy G. Reyneau, A. Philip Randolph hardly resembles the militant agitator, activist, and labor leader he was. • He became the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and he eventually rose to power in the American Federation of Labor. • He planned the first March on Washington in 1941 and was responsible for organizing the 1963 March on Washington.
Charles White • White was born in Chicago in 1918 • Father was American Indian & mother was from a MS farming family • His mother was a domestic worker • He had been a valet & a cook and was denied an art scholarship because of his race • Got to paint due to FDR’s Works Progress Administration (a New Deal art and employment project) • Was in an art union & was an anti-war activist Sharecropper, 1948
Charles White • Mural, 1939 “…paint is the only weapon I have with which to fight what I resent…” –Charles White
Ella Baker • Born in VA in 1903 • Grandmother told her stories about slavery • During the Great Depression, she was involved in the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League in Harlem, Harlem Housewives, the Women Day Workers, the YWCA • Was also a teacher through the New Deal Work’s Progress Administration • Became a field staff member of the NAACP in 1941 as a result of Walter White recognizing her talent • Helped MLK Jr. organize the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) • In 1960, inspired by the Greensboro sit-ins, help found SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee); together with CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) planned the 1961 Freedom Rides and led the 1964 Freedom Summer
Angelo Herndon • In the 1930s, the Communist Party became increasingly active in advocating for an end to job discrimination against blacks • Herndon was a party organizer • Arrested in 1932 & convicted in Atlanta for “inciting insurrection”; only 19 at the time • Case displayed southern fear of racial equality because the Communist Party embraced both white & black members • Was sentenced to 20 years on a chain gang sparked a nationwide movement of black organizations, labor unions & religious groups to free him • 1937, Supreme Court (5-4) declared GA’s slave insurrection law unconstitutional & Herndon was freed
Angelo Herndon “All my life I’d been sweated and stepped on and Jim-Crowed. I lay on my belly in the mines for a few dollars a week, and saw my pay stolen and slashed, and my buddies killed…I know now, that the Communist Party is the only program that the Southern workers—whites and Negroes both—can possibly accept in the long run.” –Angelo Herndon
United Packinghouse Workers of America • The Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (CIO) Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) formed in 1937. Its expressed purpose was to forge working class solidarity across racial lines. • The PWOC organized Chicago meatpacking plants, one by one. • World War II caused militancy especially among black activists & strained the coalition, but the integrated United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) was founded in 1943. • Because of its integrated roots & successful strike actions in the immediate post-war period ( to oppose to wage changes & anti-union laws), the UPWA was able to put anti-discrimination work at the forefront of its efforts & maintain integrated membership through the remainder of its tenure.