Cover image for Black workers remember : an oral history of segregation, unionism, and the freedom struggle
Black workers remember : an oral history of segregation, unionism, and the freedom struggle
Honey, Michael K.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxi, 402 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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HD8081.A65 H66 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The labor of black workers has been crucial to economic development in the United States. Yet because of racism and segregation, their contribution remains largely unknown. Spanning the 1930s to the present, Black Workers Remember tells the hidden history of African American workers in their own words. It provides striking firsthand accounts of the experiences of black southerners living under segregation in Memphis, Tennessee. Eloquent and personal, these oral histories comprise a unique primary source and provide a new way of understanding the black labor experience during the industrial era. Together, the stories demonstrate how black workers resisted racial apartheid in American industry and underscore the active role of black working people in history.

The individual stories are arranged thematically in chapters on labor organizing, Jim Crow in the workplace, police brutality, white union racism, and civil rights struggles. Taken together, the stories ask us to rethink the conventional understanding of the civil rights movement as one led by young people and preachers in the 1950s and 1960s. Instead, we see the freedom struggle as the product of generations of people, including workers who organized unions, resisted Jim Crow at work, and built up their families, churches, and communities. The collection also reveals the devastating impact that a globalizing capitalist economy has had on black communities and the importance of organizing the labor movement as an antidote to poverty. Michael Honey gathered these oral histories for more than fifteen years. He weaves them together here into a rich collection reflecting many tragic dimensions of America's racial history while drawing new attention to the role of workers and poor people in African American and American history.

Author Notes

Michael Keith Honey teaches African American studies, ethnic and labor studies, and American history in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Honey is an associate professor at the University of Washington at Tacoma. He was also community and civil rights organizer in Memphis and the South during the early 1970s. He has already told the story of African American workers and the union movement in Memphis from the early 1930s through the cold war in Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights (1993). Now he lets some of those same workers tell their own stories. Honey's collection of oral history is preceded by other projects, such as Rick Halpern's Meatpackers: An Oral History of Black Packinghouse Workers and Their Struggle for Racial and Economic Equality (1996) and David Perata's Those Pullman Blues: An Oral History of the African American Railroad Attendant (1999). These are all important because they dramatize the toll exacted by segregation and the struggle for rights and recognition. And with a quiet dignity, the storytellers help set the record straight because their tales are often at odds with the history that has been written. --David Rouse

Choice Review

Practitioners of the various "new histories" intend to give voice to those who heretofore have been silent. This excellent study of African American workers in Memphis, Tennessee, is one such effort. Honey uses numerous interviews, some affidavits, and a Congressional hearing transcript to let ordinary people describe their related struggles for racial and economic justice. Covering the period from the Great Depression to the present, theirs is truly a history "from the bottom up." Diverse speakers describe police brutality, Cold War "red-baiting," and the 1968 sanitation workers strike that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to the site of his tragic assassination. The workers' words provoke both outrage at the inequities of Jim Crow and admiration for the speakers' dignity and bravery as they recount their fights for something better. Through superb editing and his own insightful prose, Honey, author of Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing Memphis Workers (CH, Nov'93), stresses the connection between unionization efforts and the Civil Rights Movement, but it is the black voices simply telling their own stories that make this an excellent book. It is highly recommended for all academic and larger public libraries. All levels. R. F. Zeidel; University of Wisconsin--Stout

Table of Contents

Synopsis and Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Preface: Black History as Labor Historyp. xvii
Introduction: The Power of Rememberingp. 1
1 Segregation, Racial Violence, and Black Workersp. 15
Fannie Henderson Witnesses Southern Lynch Lawp. 20
William Glover Recounts His Frame-up by the Memphis Policep. 23
Longshore Leader Thomas Watkins Escapes Assassinationp. 29
2 From Country to City: Jim Crow at Workp. 43
Hillie and Laura Pride Move to Memphisp. 49
Matthew Davis Describes Heavy Industrial Workp. 54
George Holloway Remembers the Crump Erap. 59
Clarence Coe Recalls the Pressures of White Supremacyp. 72
3 Making a Way Out of No Way: Black Women Factory Workersp. 86
Irene Branch Does Double Duty as a Domestic and Factory Workerp. 93
Evelyn Bates Reflects on Her Lifetime of Factory Workp. 99
Susie Wade Tells How She Built a Life around Workp. 108
Rebecca McKinley Remembers the Strike at Memphis
Furniture Companyp. 114
Interlude: Not What We Seemp. 123
4 Freedom Struggles at the Point of Productionp. 132
Clarence Coe Fights for Equalityp. 136
Lonnie Roland and other Black Workers Implement the Brown Decision on the Factory Floorp. 150
George Holloway's Struggle against White Worker Racismp. 154
5 Organizing and Surviving in the Cold Warp. 177
Leroy Clark Follows the Pragmatic Road to Survival in the Jim Crow Southp. 183
Leroy Boyd Battles White Supremacy in the Era of the Red Scarep. 194
Interlude: Arts of Resistancep. 213
6 Civil Rights Unionismp. 237
Leroy Boyd Tells How Black Workers Used the Movement for Civil Rights to Revive Local 19p. 241
Factory Worker Matthew Davis Becomes a Community Leaderp. 247
Edward Lindsey Recalls Black Union Politicsp. 255
Alzada and Leroy Clark Fight for Unionism and Civil Rightsp. 261
Alzada Clark Organizes Black Women Workers in Mississippip. 271
7 "I Am a Man": Unionism and the Black Working Poorp. 286
Taylor Rogers Relives the Memphis Sanitation Strikep. 293
James Robinson Describes the Worst Job He Ever Hadp. 302
Leroy Boyd and Clarence Coe Recall a Strike and the Death of Martin Luther Kingp. 309
William Lucy Reflects on the Strike's Meaning and Outcomep. 314
8 The Fate of the Black Working Class: The Global Economy, Racism, and Union Organizingp. 322
Confronting Deindustrializationp. 324
Ida Leachman Tells How Her Union Continues to Organize Low-Wage Workersp. 335
George Holloway and Clarence Coe Reflect on the Importance of Unions and the Struggle against Racismp. 356
Epilogue: Scars of Memoryp. 369
References and Notesp. 375
Indexp. 391