This is the second volume in The Black Worker: A Documentary History From Colonial Times to the Present, the first compilation of original materials to encompass the entire history of Afro–American labor.
The Black Worker During the Era of the National Labor Union begins with the call for a convention of black leaders from around the nation to meet in Washington, D. C., in December 1869, for the purpose of organizing a counterpart to the white–dominated National Labor Union. The association which emerged from this meeting, the Colored National Labor Union, represented the first confederation of black trade unions. Even though it did not last more than a few years, the CNLU conventions are of considerable historical significance because the assembled black leaders voiced the local concerns of their communities. Therefore, these conventions provide an excellent sounding board for the hopes and fears of black America. Moreover, along with the local and state labor meetings, which also are reproduced in this volume, the proceedings of the CNLU, available here for the first time, reveal the nature and scope of activism among black workers during the 1870s, a decade of complex cross–currents in the labor movement, and a period of economic and political turmoil in the nation at large.
Volume II explores the intricate race relations between black and white workers, who sometimes cooperated, but all too frequently found themselves in conflict. Local black militancy was, nevertheless, vibrant during the 1870s, a conclusion substantiated by the numerous strikes conducted by black workers demanding better pay and conditions, especially in the South. The white response to this militancy was usually one of hostility. Thus, the Ku Klux Klan and other secret societies attempted to control black workers by violent means and to reduce them to the quasi–slave status of a permanent under–class, subordinated socially and exploited economically.
Under these deteriorating conditions, some blacks sought reform panaceas such as “greenbackism,” the monetary reform movement which flourished briefly following the Panic of 1874. Other black workers came to support a reordering of society through socialism, while still others dreamed of withdrawing from the struggle for economic survival by resettling in Africa. Volume II concludes with the dramatic Kansas Exodus of 1879, an attempt by black southerners to gain some degree of autonomy and control over their destiny in the isolation of the open plains of the American West.
Like the other volumes in this series, the documents presented are accompanied by introductions and notes, and original spellings have been retained except in cases where they obscure the intended meaning.
The editors wish to express special thanks to those who have been generous in their assistance toward completion of this book. Miss Lila Prieb did an outstanding job of typing the manuscript from very demanding copy, and Ms. Gail Brittingham once again proved herself invaluable to this project. Two more competent typists are not likely to be found. We would also like to express our appreciation to the Black American Studies Program at the University of Delaware for its continued moral and material support. Preparation of the manuscript for this volume was facilitated by a grant–in–aid from the College of Arts and Science, University of Delaware, and we gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness.
Ronald L. Lewis
University of Delaware
Philip S. Foner
Lincoln University, Pennsylvania