Celebrating Black History Month 2020

02/28/2020

The intersection of civil rights and the labor movement is undeniable. This Black History Month, we celebrated Black activists, organizers, and leaders.


Lucy Gonzales was born a slave in Texas. After emancipation, she married Albert Parsons. White supremacists drove the activist couple from their home state. Settling in Chicago, Lucy and her husband began organizing on behalf of the city’s industrial unions. In 1886, the couple helped lead 80,000 working people in the world’s first May Day parade, which demanded the eight-hour day. After her husband was arrested, along with seven immigrant leaders, during the Haymarket Riot, Parsons became active in the campaign to free the men. She soon became known by anti-union forces as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” Her activism in the following years would lead her to become the only woman to speak at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World. She actively fought for working people, until she died in a fire in 1942.” (via AFL-CIO)


A. Philip Randolph was one of the greatest black labor leaders in America’s history and a key founder of the modern American civil rights movement. Randolph was born April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, Fla., and he grew up on the east side of Jacksonville. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the first predominantly African American labor union, and served as the organization’s first president. In the 1940s, Randolph was instrumental in leading the fight to end discrimination in defense plant jobs in World War II and the desegregation of the armed forces after the war. Over the years his nonviolent protests and mass action efforts inspired the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Randolph was a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Moved by this success, Randolph and Bayard Rustin founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) in 1965 to continue the struggle for social, political and economic justice for all working Americans. APRI is an organization of black trade unionists that continues fighting today for racial equality and economic justice.” (via AFL-CIO)


Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting and women’s rights activist, community organizer, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer also organized Mississippi’s Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was also a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organization created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office. She was known for her use of spiritual hymnals and quotes and her resilience in leading the civil rights movement for black women in Mississippi. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by white supremacists and police while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters, and helped hundreds of disenfranchised people in her area through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative.” (via Wikipedia)


Bayard Rustin served the trade union and civil rights movements as a brilliant theorist, tactician and organizer. In the face of his accomplishments, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten and fired from leadership positions because he was an openly gay man in a severely homophobic era. He conceived the coalition of liberal, labor and religious leaders who supported passage of the civil rights and anti-poverty legislation of the 1960s and, as the first executive director of the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, he worked closely with the labor movement to ensure African American workers’ rightful place in the House of Labor. One of Rustin’s most notable moments came when he was tapped to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event for which he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Organized during a two-month period, Rustin helped create what would be the largest protest in America’s history at that point. Rustin has been referred to as the “most important civil rights leader you’ve never heard of” and a key mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.” (via AFL-CIO)


Hattie Canty grew up near Mobile, Alabama, before eventually settling in Las Vegas with her family. In 1972, she began working various jobs as a maid and janitor. She became active in the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and was elected to the local’s executive board in 1984, the year they staged a 75-day walkout to improve health insurance for casino workers. In 1990, she became the president of the union, and in 1991, the Culinary Workers began the longest labor strike in American history, with a walk-off from the Frontier Hotel over unfair labor practices. Six years later, the hotel’s new owner settled with the union. Canty not only fought to make sure that working people got paid the living wages they earned, she helped integrate the union, helped people of color obtain better jobs and established the Culinary Training Academy, which teaches job skills necessary for employment in the hospitality industry.” (via AFL-CIO)