This is the fifth volume of the BLACK WORKER: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY FROM COLONIAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT. Recently there has been a surge of interest in working-class history, but this series represents the first compilation of original materials to encompass the entire history of Afro-American labor.
THE BLACK WORKER FROM 1900 TO 1919 begins with an assessment of the economic condition of black workers at the turn of the twentieth century by such astute observers as W. E. B. Du Bois, Kelly Miller, Richard R. Wright, Jr., and others. It examines working conditions in southern factories as well as the industrial status of blacks in the North. Special consideration is given to race relations within the labor movement, particularly the American Federation of Labor and its affiliated unions. Even though racial discrimination abounded within that movement, there are dramatic examples of interracial cooperation, and even unity, within the working class. They are illustrated in Volume V. Several key strikes demonstrate the complexity of racial schisms in the labor movement of that era. The 1908 United Mine Workers of America strike in Alabama, for example, revealed how black and white unity could be overcome by appeals to racism. The New Orleans levee strike of the previous year succeeded, however, because the strikers refused to be swayed by the appeal to racial solidarity over labor solidarity.
The industrial expansion which occurred as a result of World War I drew blacks to the North at the same time that severe poverty, discrimination, and racial violence forced them out of the South. The resultant “Great Migration” began the transformation of Afro-America from a nation of southern farmers to one of northern ghetto-dwellers. This wrenching social process created serious problems for blacks in the labor market and they are explored in Volume V.
This book begins a four-volume chronicle of black working-class life during the twentieth century. As with the preceding volumes, the documents presented are placed into historical context by introductions and notes, and original spellings have been retained except where they obscure the intended meaning.
The editors wish to express their appreciation to those who have been generous in their assistance toward the completion of this book, especially the staffs at the following institutions: American Federation of Labor Archives, Birmingham Public Library, Howard-Tilton Library of Tulane University, Hugh M. Morris Library of the University of Deleware, Library of Congress, National Archives, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the U.S. Department of Labor Library. Also, we are grateful to Miss Lila Prieb for practicing her craft at the typewriter, and for her dedication to the series. Once again we thank Roslyn Foner for designing these books, and Susan Lewis for enduring the tedious hours of proofreading with good humor. Finally, we are thankful for the material assistance of the Black American Studies Program, and the financial assistance provided by the College of Arts and Science, at the University of Delaware.
Ronald L. Lewis
University of Delaware
Philip S. Foner