Cover image for Black unionism in the industrial South
Black unionism in the industrial South
Obadele-Starks, Ernest, 1959-
First edition.
Publication Information:
College Station : Texas A & M University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxii, 183 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD6490.R22 U66 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In the early twentieth century, the Upper Texas Gulf Coast was one of the fastest growing industrial areas in the country. The cotton trade had attracted railroad and ship labor to the banks of the Gulf of Mexico, numerous oil refineries sprouted up in response to the Spindletop gusher of 1901, and the shipbuilding and steel trades were also prospering as a result of the oil boom. Such economic promise attracted thousands of black laborers from across the South who hoped to find a good job and a better life. They were instead kept in low-wage jobs, refused union memberships, and restricted in their mobility. Black Unionism in the Industrial South presents the struggles of black workers who fought for equality and unionization in the heyday of Gulf Coast industry. Ernest Obadele-Starks examines the unionist responses to racial and class domination and their creative strategies to reach their goals. Facing public and corporate policy that typically deferred to white workers, blacks banded together to achieve representation in the workplace, form union auxiliaries charter their own local unions, seal alliances with members of the black middle class, and manipulate the media to benefit their cause. Personal accounts highlight the unionists'passion, even when their requests and demands resulted in little more than gradual participation, sporadic inclusion, and minimal interracial cooperation. Obadele-Starks eloquently captures the unionists' fight and discusses the implications of their struggle for the industrial society of the Upper Texas Gulf Coast. Students and scholars of American labor history, race relations, and Texas history will find Black Unionism in the Industrial South avaluable and compelling scholarly work.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Obadele-Starks's book examines the historical struggles of black workers in southern industries in the US. While the title suggests broad regional coverage, the focus is actually the upper Texas Gulf Coast. Individual chapters examine the longshore, railroad, oil, oil equipment supply (Hughes Tool Company), and shipbuilding industries. Activities of the Federal Employment Practice Commission (FEPC) are discussed in a separate chapter. The resistance of white unionists and employers to black workers' efforts to organize separately and the complexities associated with integrated unions are thoroughly documented, as is the sometimes uneasy relationship between community leaders and black unionists. Despite each industry's unique dimensions, common patterns can be discerned. However, no rigorous attempt is made to draw cross-industry generalizations. The writing is adequate, but additional detail would have been useful at some junctures, in either the body of the text or in the footnotes. Overall, Obadele-Starks (Texas A&M Univ.) makes an important contribution to the body of literature exemplified by Eric Arnesen's Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923 (CH, Sep'91) and Robin Kelley's Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (1990). Recommended for academic and research collections. J. B. Stewart; Pennsylvania State University, University Park Campus