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


Compiled by Rudolph Lewis




Octave Blake Says: Unions Working

'Night and Day' To Bring End To Segregation

Central Carolinian (Monday, July 9, 1956)


Labor unions are working day and night and pouring out the money which they collect in dues to bring an end to racial segregation, Octave Blake, president of the Cornell Dubilier Electric corporation, charged in a letter which was distributed to employees of the firm's Sanford plant over the past week-end.

The eight-page letter dated July 7 and mailed over Blake's signature contained the firm's complete ideas on the matter of unionization plus the essential facts regarding time, place and manner of voting for the representation election set July 20. The election will determine whether or not the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will become the bargaining agent for employees at the Sanford plant.

Commenting on the union position on segregation Blake said:

"With respect to the Union organizers leading you into their fold, there is another matter which I want to lay before you very clearly and very frankly. All over the South today there is deep concern on the question of racial segregation versus integration. That is a matter on which each person is entitled to his or her own views. This company does not consider, and I do not consider, that it is appropriate for the Company to try to influence you one way or another on this deep and vital issue.

"But the Unions have taken and are taking a very extreme position on this matter. When the union organizers try to lead people to believe that the Union does not take any stand one way or another on integration or segregation and that they consider the matter as on which should be handled by each community on a local basis, they are not telling you the truth as to what the Union's real position is. You are entitled to know, and you should understand the organizers are misleading you and deceiving you when they pretend that the Unions are neutral on this matter. The actual truth is that the Unions are working day and night, and pouring out the money which they collect in dues, in an effort to eliminate segregation and to bring about integration in the schools and elsewhere between the white people and the colored people as rapidly as possible.

"In the case which was before the United States Supreme Court on the question, the CIO, now merged with the AFL in what is called the AFL-CIO, filed an official document in which it stated emphatically and positively that the Union 'supports the elimination of racial integration . . . from every phase of American Life.' Further the union urged that segregation should be ended 'forthwith' rather than by 'gradual adjustment.' The document further states that where the 'Unions have there way, there is like wise no segregation in the use of plant eating places, locker rooms, rest rooms, etc.'

"You may not have noticed in the newspapers that the AFL-CIO at its recent convention took $75,000.00 of the dues paid to it by the people who are its members and gave this money to the national Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is the organization aggressively working for the wiping out of all racial segregation, both in schools, manufacturing plants and elsewhere."

Other points covered in Blake's letter included the matter of union dues as he charged that "What they (the organizers) are after is MONEY -- YOUR MONEY."

Commenting on pay in the local plant Blake said . . . "Your pay is the best for this line of work in the entire area . . . It is our hope that this shall continue to be so. You can count on that without having to pay any union dues to accomplish it."

He also called attention to physical facilities at the local Cornell-Dubilier plant, stating "while most people work in the sweltering heat of summer, you have the best of air conditioning. There is no other plant in our line of work in the whole country, Union plants or non-union plants--where the people have as good conditions of work as you have here. Furthermore we hope to expand here in this plant, which would provide more jobs all along for your friends, relatives and other people of the community."

Commenting on job security, Blake said that the basis on which personnel are laid off in times of short orders and work is the same in the local plant that it is in the company's union plants.

The Cornell-Dubilier President further said that in the company's union plants the total employment has dropped down to one-third what it used to be. He said that this was the type of job security the union gave those employees in exchange for $728,000 in union dues over the years.

Blake in commenting on conditions at the local Cornell-Dubilier plant said, 'I do not mean to claim that everything is just as perfect as it might be here. I do not believe that things have been improved a lot and we hope to keep on improving them. And I would like to emphasize to you before, that if there is anything you wish to call to our attention at any time, there is no reason why you should not do so and we will sincerely welcome you doing so'.

In concluding his letter Blake said, "In light of all these considerations, I believe you will surely come to the conclusion in your own good judgment: That you stand to lose if this Union were to come in here and that you stand to gain by keeping it out!"

Asked this (Monday) morning if he wanted to comment further on the letter Leslie A. Johnson, manger of the local Cornell-Dubilier plant said that he felt the letter covered the situation and that he had no further comment of the union organizing activities.

posted 24 July 2008

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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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. WashingtonPost

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Ancient African Nations

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