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

A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY

Compiled by Rudolph Lewis

 
 

 

James B. Carey

ON CIVIL RIGHTS

AFL-CIO Convention (1956)

Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Resolution before this Convention.

The issue of Civil Rights was high on the agenda of the basic principles that concerned the AFL-CIO Unity Committee during its negotiations leading to this historic convention. This issue has been high on the agenda of public discussion and political controversy for the last decade,-- a decade marked by substantial progress, undreamed of a few years ago. Also, this progress has produced the paradoxical situation that finds many persons' civil rights being violated daily.

We, as a labor movement, have moved forward to carry out the principles enunciated in the Constitution. The majority of the organizations comprising the AFL-CIO have always believed in the principle of equal rights for all. The labor movement has always played a distinguished role in the continuing struggle to realize for all Americans the democratic rights promised by the Constitution of the United States.

The AFL-CIO is similarly pledged and dedicated. We are constitutionally bound to encourage all workers without regard to race, creed, or national origin to share equally in the full benefits of union organization. However, being practical men, we also recognize that worthy ideals and principles are inadequate, unless we create machinery to implement and translate these ideals into reality. Therefore, we established constitutional machinery which we sincerely believe provides the necessary tools. In view of our experiences and traditions, we believe the most practical kind of machinery for the implementation of this non-discrimination policy is a constitutional committee carefully drawn from a cross section of this new Federation.

This kind of machinery proved efficient in the CIO. In 1942, we created the CIO Committee to Abolish Racial Discrimination which was succeeded by the CIO Committee on Civil Rights. We discovered shortly after the creation of CIO that enunciating a principle in a constitution was not enough. To put that principle into effect required machinery and concentrated effort. Without machinery, this principle would have remained a pious hope instead of becoming one of our finest traditions.

We found our next task was the creation of similar machinery in our affiliated international organizations and state and city bodies. Today, many of the former CIO unions have developed functioning machinery within their own organizations, constantly working to extend these principles to the local plant and community level. The next step was to recommend that our affiliated unions include anti-discrimination clauses in their contracts with management. This is where discriminatory practices generally begin,--at the hiring gate, which in most instances, is management's sole responsibility.

Looking back, important milestones can be identified. One of the early milestones was the end of wage differentials based on race. This issue was fought out by the CIO Committee to Abolish Discrimination, to a successful conclusion before the old War Labor Board.

We joined the AFL at the end of the war in lending our experiences and resources to President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights. Boris Shiskin and I, working as a team, were successful in having many of the concepts that guide the labor movement accepted by this group of good citizens. The results of our efforts are reflected in the final report accepted by the American people entitled, "To Secure These Rights'." Following publication of this report, the Supreme Court began to translate the Federal Government's responsibility to preserve  the civil rights of each individual into decisions that are changing the patterns of American life.

The Supreme Court in 1948 declared that racially restrictive covenants were no longer enforceable in the Federal Courts. The Supreme Court banned discrimination in eating places in the District of Columbia. In a series of decisions in the field of education the framework of segregation was narrowed. These decisions eloquently reaffirmed that our Constitution can and should be color blind.

In retrospect, we can now see that these decisions were just a prelude to the important one. On May 17, 1954, and again in May, 1955, the Supreme Court unanimously an in clear unequivocal language, declared that in the field of public education, segregation has no place, that it is a denial of the equal protection of laws. This historic declaration promises our children a greater and more equal share in our democracy than we experienced. Moreover, the Court lost no time in applying the doctrine of no-segregation to other Federal and local tax-supported institutions and facilities.          

We have associated ourselves with this point of view and have implemented it with every means at our command. In this struggle, although the NAACP has taken the leadership in forging the law into an instrument of social precision to accomplish these objectives, the labor movement has always been closely associated and identified with the NAACP and other like-minded groups in this struggle. We supported the NAACP financially and by filing amicus curae briefs before the Supreme Court in this series of cases. But more important, we began utilizing our resources to implement these decisions through our machinery on the local level.

At the same time, we were working to put our own house in order. Our General Counsel and also a member of the Committee on Civil Rights, recommended we issue a directive that has proved to be prophetic and historic. We directed all state and city bodies to abolish segregated facilities in rest rooms, drinking fountains and other facilities. We banned separate meetings and functions on our property. This directive preceded the latest series of Supreme Court decisions declaring segregation in public facilities unconstitutional.

We next initiated a campaign to take the race tag off jobs. Working with one of our major unions, we began to develop a program designed to permit any worker, regardless of his color, to be promoted to any job which his seniority and skill entitled him to occupy. As this campaign has succeeded, we have developed tools and techniques available to other unions. This campaign marked the first time that the problems of discrimination in an entire industry had been attacked simultaneously.

We are confident that with the added strength and enthusiasm our new Federation will bring to this struggle, the advances of the last decade can be accelerated. We believe we can bring greater vitality to the task of completing democracy's unfinished business. We know in so doing we will immeasurably strengthen the American labor movement.

In view of the nature of its task, the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee must be regarded as the agency in the new Federation responsible for the formulation of policy in this vital area. Broadly speaking, the committee should recommend policies and programs for our new Federation. It should develop procedures and programs for the consideration and acceptance of our International Unions and state and city bodies. The committee should be the spokesman with governmental agencies, for our new Federation. It should have the responsibility of maintaining appropriate relationships with approved private organizations working in the field.

The resources and skills of the committee will always be available to our International Unions in working out the practical day-to-day problems that constantly arise as they seek to breathe life into our ideals. We must have faith--faith enough to dedicate ourselves to the realization of these values.

Also, we must clearly recognize that this task cannot be accomplished in a vacuum--it cannot be accomplished within the confines of the labor movement without, at the same time, fighting for the extension of these principles in the local communities in which we live and work.

We must constantly seek to strengthen those civic and community forces whose ideals and convictions and programs of action are constant with ours.. We must continue to support, plan and work with the NAACP, the national Urban league, the Jewish labor committee, and the many other organizations with which we share common ideological convictions.

The recent wave of terror and denial of constitutional rights in Mississippi and other Southern states must enlist our grave concern. They not only do violence to the rights and dignity of the victims but they do violence to you and me. Our constitutional rights are also attacked. The emergence of the 'White Citizens Councils' in Mississippi, the 'States Rights in North Carolina' the 'Tennessee Society to Maintain Segregation' and other similar organizations represent a new type of Ku Klux Klan.

We must realize that a more terrible, a new and more powerful type of Klan is attempting to rise in the South today than the Ku Klux Klan which followed the first World War. This time is it is more dangerous, because it is ultra-respectable and does not hide behind sheets. This time it is openly led by prominent citizens, many of whom are elected local and state officials. This time it counts among its members and supporters: bankers, lawyers, powerful industrialists and plantation owners. It counts among its supporters state Governors, United states senators and Congressmen.

Remember its birth! The white Citizens Councils came into being shortly after the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court outlawing segregation in public schools. Its organization was inspired by a speech made by Senator Eastland.

While this movement was organized on the surface to mobilize public opinion to delay and prevent the enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions outlawing segregation in the schools. The real purpose behind this movement is to use the desegregation issue to stop economic and social progress in the South.

There is substantial evidence that the movement is directed at trade unions. This fear stems from the AFL-CIO

announcement that we will launch an effective organizing campaign among the working people of the South. This can be demonstrated by the fact that among the leaders of this new subversive movement are a number of individuals active in the anti-labor organizations who succeeded in securing enactment of 'right-to-work ' laws in our Southern states.

On October 23, 1955, they merged into a Southern Confederation of Pro-Segregationists, under the name of the "Federation for Constitutional Government', directed by John U. Barr, who has been a spokesman for the manufacturers' associations in the South, a leader in the Dixiecrat Party of 1948, and a leader in all of the anti-labor organizations created in recent years.

In Charleston. South Carolina, a successful organizing campaign, conducted in a rubber fabric plant by the United rubber Workers, came to an end when the local units of the White Citizens Councils applied economic and social pressure on the white members to withdraw from the union, because it included both white and Negro workers on an equal basis. Other examples can be cited.

Every area of the South, where these councils have been organized, and have become a political and economic power, the normal process of justice has been diminished. At the same time, this campaign of terror and intimidation is showing its effect among prominent Southern liberals who are silent and lonely and have not spoken out against this menace. Many of the large Protestant church denominations have gone on record as approving the abolition of racial segregation as a public policy. However, when the local ministers attempt to put their religious belief into practice, they are immediately threatened and intimidated by these White Citizens Councils.

Organized labor constitutes the only other group which has economic and political influence in these major industrial centers of the South. Unless we of the trade union movement and like-minded community groups develop a program to expose this type of subversion, our liberties and future union organizing campaigns will be jeopardized. Equally important, unless we act promptly and decisively, our local unions risks being infiltrated by these organizations with their totalitarian philosophy. Such a situation could well sound the death knell to our efforts to bring the benefits of trade union organization to Southern workers.

This development has underscored the need for Federal legislation which will arm the Department of Justice to protect the civil rights of each citizen. More than one hundred civil rights bills were introduced during the last session of Congress. Not one was debated or voted upon,--a negative record consistent with that of previous Congressional sessions. The Administration continued to exercise no leadership in bringing any of these bills out of committee. Moreover, this negative performance of Congress is a total repudiation of the platform of both parties, which have repeatedly pledged support of civil rights legislation.

The reign of terror in Mississippi, where three Negroes have already been killed under lynch law conditions, has dramatized the helplessness of the Federal government in protecting the civil rights of all Americans. Thus the United States, which has protested brutality and violence throughout the world, now stands mute and helpless when brutality and violence are used against United States citizens. This condition is the more tragic for these citizens were only seeking to exercise their right to vote and to enjoy other rights guaranteed under the Constitution. This cynical disregard of pledges by both major political parties will  continue to leave our Government helpless, until we convince our elected representatives that there is a widespread demand and need for Congressional action on civil rights in the coming sessions of Congress. As President Meany has said, we must answer this challenge by increased political action.

Probably the most important event in the long history of the American labor movement is occurring in this historic convention. I am completely convinced that a united, democratic labor movement of 16 million Americans can be the greatest single force in our society for swift expansion of civil rights and liberties in every sphere of our national life.

For the same reason our new merged labor movement should be more effective in organizing the unorganized, in legislative activity and politics because of its greater dedication and numerical strength. Our new movement must be more effective in both the quantity and quality of its efforts in the fields of civil rights and anti-discrimination.

Merger can be the threshold of a new future . . . a new future for the nation's working men and women, for the underprivileged and for minorities. Basically a unified labor movement inspires this hope!

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For Further Information

IUE-CWA. "Born in Tumultuous Times." http://www.iue-cwa.org/about/history.html

Biographical Sketch of James B. Carey, 1956

http://www.smlr.rutgers.edu/library/james_carey/items/careybio1956.htm

Quigel, James P. "An Inventory of the Records of the President's Office of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, ca. 1938-1965." Rutgers University Libraries: Special Collections and University Archives.rutgers

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

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

 She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson, III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America.

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Here lies Jim Crow: Civil rights in Maryland

 By C. Fraser Smith

Though he lived throughout much of the South—and even worked his way into parts of the North for a time—Jim Crow was conceived and buried in Maryland. From Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney's infamous decision in the Dred Scott case to Thurgood Marshall's eloquent and effective work on Brown v. Board of Education, the battle for black equality is very much the story of Free State women and men. Here, Baltimore Sun columnist C. Fraser Smith recounts that tale through the stories, words, and deeds of famous, infamous, and little-known Marylanders. He traces the roots of Jim Crow laws from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson and describes the parallel and opposite early efforts of those who struggled to establish freedom and basic rights for African Americans.

Following the historical trail of evidence, Smith relates latter-day examples of Maryland residents who trod those same steps, from the thrice-failed attempt to deny black people the vote in the early twentieth century to nascent demonstrations for open access to lunch counters, movie theaters, stores, golf courses, and other public and private institutions—struggles that occurred decades before the now-celebrated historical figures strode onto the national civil rights scene.

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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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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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