THE BLACK RESPONSE TO COLORPHOBIA
The National Labor Union grew out of the consciousness that the local efforts of workers could never remedy the evils they suffered. It was evident that only by “nationalizing” their struggle and by establishing working-class solidarity could the workers hope to win a better life. In the first attempt to set up a national labor federation after the Civil War, several leading trade unionists issued a call for a national convention. The assembly which founded the NLU met in Baltimore in August 1866, with sixty delegates representing 60,000 people. No mention of black workers emerged until the 1867 convention, when the committee on Negro labor requested that the question of admitting black workers be delayed in order to avoid a split of the delegates. The committee declared that since the constitution did not bar blacks, there was no reason to debate the point. Two black delegates were admitted to their seats, however (Doc. 1–3). The Boston Daily Evening Voice hailed the convention’s recognition of blacks as brothers and “co-laborers” (Doc. 4), while the white feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, chided black workingmen for not being more forceful in their efforts to unionize (Doc. 6).
When the NLU met again in 1869, a delegation of black unionists was present. The convention did not go on record as favoring integration, but did adopt a resolution encouraging the organization of separate Negro trade unions which would be affiliated with the NLU. Although segregation was still maintained, the 1869 convention marked the first occasion when a national gathering of white workers authorized the admission of black unionists to participate as affiliated union representatives, and advocated the organization of black trade unions. The reform press hailed this as a major breakthrough, and the Woman’s Rights Convention, which was meeting in Cleveland at the time, applauded the NLU for its progressive stance (Doc. 9–10) .
The 1869 NLU convention brought national attention to Isaac Myers of the Baltimore Colored Caulkers’ Trade Union Society, who spoke for the black delegation while the white members listened “with the most profound attention” (Doc. 7). Myers was a leading black spokesman in Baltimore when, in 1865, the white caulkers and carpenters mobbed their black counterparts and drove them from the shipyards. In response, Myers helped to organize the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company, as well as the Caulkers’ Union, which employed the 300 black workers driven off their jobs. With the timely assistance of government contracts, the venture succeeded (Doc. 11–13).
Although the white unionists listened to Myers with keen interest, fundamental political differences were to prevent the blacks from accepting affiliation. Along with many labor reformers of the period, the NLU advocated repudiation of the war debt by paying those with government bonds in “greenbacks” rather than gold. Furthermore, the NLU consistently condemned the Republican party as an agent of Wall Street and President Grant as their spokesman. For blacks this represented heresy. After all, the Radical Republicans were responsible for most of the political gains achieved by Negroes since the Civil War, while the Democrats represented the forces of oppression. Rather than divide black workers by accepting the NLU position, as it assuredly would have, Myers and other black unionists issued a call for a Colored National Labor Union to meet in convention in January 1869. The first of its kind in American history, the black union delegates met in Washington, D. C. (Doc. 14).
The final selections in Part XI presage the call and proceedings of the Colored National Labor Union, which introduce volume II of this series.
Mr. Phelps, from the Committee on Negro Labor, reported that, having had the subject under consideration, and after having heard the suggestions and opinions of several members of this Convention—pro and con—have arrived at the following conclusions:
That, while we feel the importance of the subject, and realize the danger in the future of competition in mechanical negro labor, yet we find the subject involved in so much mystery, and upon it so wide diversity of opinion amongst our members, we believe that it is inexpedient to take action on the subject in this National Labor Congress.
RESOLVED, that the subject of negro labor be laid over till the next session of the National Labor Congress.
The report was extensively discussed, Mr. Trevellick taking strong ground against it on the ground that the negro will bear to be taught his duty, and has already stood his ground nobly when member of a trades union.
Mr. Harding opposed it because he did not like to confess to the world that there was a subject with which they were afraid to cope, and Mr. Green thought that the consideration of the subject had been too long deferred already. He well remembered that this very question was at the root of the rebellion, which was the war of the poor white men of the South, who forced the slaveholders into the war. (Interruption.)
Mr. Peabody was against the adoption of the report. He did not want to see a single labor organization misrepresented in that congress, black or white. The difficulty, if ever laid over, would be even greater than now.
Mr. Phelps said in New Haven there were a number of respectable colored mechanics, but they had not been able to induce the trades’ unions to admit them. He asked was there any union in the states which would admit colored men.
Mr. Van Dorn was sorry that the word “black” or “colored” had been used in the convention. He believed in meeting the difficulty, however, as it had been raised, and would vote to take in the black worker as a duty to a common brotherhood. The colored man was industrious, and susceptible of improvement and advancement.
Mr. Kuykendall said that the negro or white man had not been mentioned in the constitution already adopted, and there was no need of entering on any discussion of the matter.
Mr. Mitchell had looked on the matter as being fully settled.
Mr. Cather understood the intention to be to legislate for the good of the entire laboring community of the United States. There was no necessity for the foisting of the subject of colored labor, or the appointment of a committee to report thereon. He had no doubt that the blacks would combine together of themselves and by themselves, without the assistance of the whites. God speed them; but let not the whites try to carry them on their shoulders.
Mr. Ellacott moved to recommit the report to the hands of the committee, and Mr. Lucker suggested that they would not be expected to report.
Several other gentlemen concurred in this view, claiming that these questions were settled when the constitution was adopted.
Mr. Gibson said it would be time enough to talk about admitting colored men to trades’ unions and to the Congress when they applied for admission.
Mr. Sylvis said this question had been already introduced in the South, the whites striking against the blacks, and creating an antagonism which will kill off the trades’ unions, unless the two be consolidated. There is no concealing the fact that the time will come when the “negro will take possession of the shops if we have not taken possession of the negro. If the workingmen of the white race do not conciliate the blacks, the black vote will be cast against them.”
Mr. Peabody said that the capitalists of New England now employed foreign boys and girls in their mills, to the almost entire exclusion of the native-born population. They would seek to supplant these by colored workers. He thought there was little danger of black men wanting to enter white trades’ unions any more than Germans would try to join the English societies in America. . . .
[The report was recommitted, and the committee afterwards reported “that after mature deliberation they had come to the conclusion that the constitution already adopted prevented the necessity of reporting on the subject of negro labor.” This report was adopted.]
Workingman’s Advocate, August 24, 31, 1867.
We have availed ourselves today of the reports of the Chicago Post and Tribune for an account of the doings of the Labor Congress on Wednesday and Thursday. We do not know how faithful these reports may be, but they are the best at hand.
It will be seen that Mr. Kuykendall and Mr. Schlaeger were admitted to seats, which fact we are glad to set to the credit on the Congress: but the fact that these gentlemen’s two seats were questioned as they were is no credit to our representatives.72
And while we are in the critical mood, we cannot forbear to say that the debate on the question of negro labor was also very discreditable to a body of American labor reformers. The question should not have come up at all, any more than the question of redheaded labor, or blue-eyed labor. Of course the negro has the same right to work and pursue his happiness that the white man has; and of course, if the white man refuses to work with him, or to give him an equal chance, he will be obliged, in self-defence, to underbid the white, and it is a disgrace to the Labor Congress that several members of that body were so much under the influence of the silliest and wickednest of all prejudices as to hesitate to recognize the negro. When we need to get rid of prejudices and learn to take catholic views, they have nailed their prejudices into this platform. We shall never succeed till wiser counsels prevail and these prejudices are ripped up and thrown to the wind. The labor reform is labor rising into noble and dignified manhood, in the name of God and humanity, or it is the weak and contemptible menace of slaves. We have some good men in this Congress, but not enough of them, this is evident.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, August 27, 1867.
The condition of the negro as a slave, and the moral and economical efforts of slavery, were discussed by the press, from the public rostrum, and in the halls of Congress for years and years with great energy and zeal; what shall be his status as a free man is at present a matter of no less national anxiety. But aside from this, his interest as a workingman, and especially the part he is to take in advancing the cause of labor have, as yet, received no consideration. It is in this last respect exclusively that, the question has an interest for the friends of the labor reform; an interest of such vital importance that, delicate as the question may be, and notwithstanding the impossibility of expressing an opinion in reference to it, which would meet with the universal approval of the workingmen of America, the committee feel that it would be a sad dereliction to pass it by unnoticed.
The first thing to be accomplished before we can hope for any great results is the thorough organization of all the departments of labor. This work, although its beginning is of such recent date, has progressed with amazing rapidity. Leagues, societies and associations exist in all the large towns and cities, and in many villages and country districts. There are central organizations in many of the states, and one national labor congress, the result of whose deliberation on the future welfare of the country can scarcely be overestimated. In this connection we cannot overlook the important position now assigned to the colored race in this contest. Unpalatable as the truth may be to many, it is needless to disguise the fact that they are destined to occupy a different position in the future, to what they have in the past; that they must necessarily become in their new relationship an element of strength or an element of weakness, and it is for the workingmen of America to say which that shall be.
The systematic organization and consolidation of labor must henceforth become the watchward of the true reformer. To accomplish this the co-operation of the African race in America must be secured. If those most directly interested fail to perform this duty, others will avail themselves of it to their injury. Indeed a practical illustration of this was afforded in the recent importation of colored caulkers from Portsmouth, Va., to Boston, Mass., during the struggle on the eight hour question. What is wanted then, is for every union to help inculcate the grand, ennobling idea that the interests of labor are one; that there should be no distinction of race or nationality; no classification of Jew or Gentile, Christian or Infidel; that there is but one dividing line—that which separates mankind into two great classes, the class that labors and the class that lives by others’ labor. This, in our judgment, is the true course for us as workingmen. The interest of all on our side of the line is the same, and should we be so far misled by prejudice or passion as to refuse to aid the spread of union principles among any of our fellow toilers, we would be untrue to them, untrue to ourselves and to the great cause we profess to have at heart. If these general principles be correct, we must seek the co-operation of the African race in America.
But aside from all this, the workingmen of the United States have a special interest in seeking their co-operation. This race is being rapidly educated, and will soon be admitted to all the privileges and franchises of citizenship. That it will neither die out nor be exterminated, is now regarded as a settled fact. They are there to live amongst us, and the question to be decided is, shall we make them our friends, or shall capital be allowed to turn them as an engine against us? They number four millions strong, and a greater proportion of them labor with their hands than can be counted from among the same number of any other people on earth. Their moral influence, and their strength at the ballot-box would be of incalculable value to the cause of labor. Can we afford to reject their proffered co-operation and make them enemies? By committing such an act of folly we would inflict greater injury upon the cause of Labor Reform than the combined efforts of capital could accomplish. Their cherished idea of an antagonism between white and black labor would be realized, and as the Austrian despotism makes use of the hostility between the different races, which compose the empire to maintain her existence and her balance, so capitalists, north and south, would foment discord between the whites and blacks, and hurl the one against the other, as interest and occasion might require, to maintain their ascendancy and continue the reign of oppression. Lamentable spectacle! Labor warring against labor, and capital smiling and reaping the fruits of this mad contest.
Taking this view of the question, we are of the opinion that the interests of the labor cause demand that all workingmen be included within its ranks, without regard to race or nationality; and that the interests of the workingmen of America especially requires that the formation of trades’ unions, eight hour leagues, and other labor organizations, should be encouraged among the colored race; that they be instructed in the true principles of labor reform, and that they be invited to co-operate with us in the general labor undertaking. The time when such co-operation should take effect we leave to the decision and wisdom of the next congress, believing that such enlightened action will be there developed as to redound to the best and most lasting interests of all concerned. . . .
John R. Commons, Ulrich B. Phillips, Eugene A. Gilmore, Helen L. Sumner, and John B. Andrews (eds.), A Documentary History of American Industry (New York: Russell & Russell, 1958), vol. 9, pp. 157–60.
We are greatly pleased to see the high stand taken by the Address of the two topics which are at the same time most important, and least understood,—the relation of woman and the relation of the colored race in our movement. The ignorance and prejudice which make the labor reform necessary are necessarily the great obstacles it has to encounter; and the VOICE having for some time contended all alone, among the advocates of labor reform, for the recognition of the truths here involved, we hail this emphatic endorsement by the Labor Congress of this doctrine that woman must be paid the same for the same work as man, and that the negro must be recognized as a brother and co-laborer or there can be no elevation to labor, as one of the most encouraging signs of progress which are now cheering the thoughtful and observing friends of reform.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, June 26, 1867.
The adjourned session of Congress has furnished another proof, if any were wanting, of the utter incapacity of that body to provide the relief which the people demand from those oppressive conditions which are the joint results of an expensive war, legislative prodigality, if not corruption, and a stupid incompetency to comprehend the only methods by which the nation may issue from its embarrassments.
If it be the atmosphere of Washington which dwarfs men who, before they become members of Congress have, at least, ordinary intelligence, the sooner the capital is removed the better. If the mere fact of being a congressman necessarily stunts the human faculties, it becomes a philanthropic duty to abolish Congress, if, indeed, the abolition of that body is not demanded by a natural law which expels everything lifeless from the living organization. The Congress which has just adjourned, imagines the nation to be in exactly the condition which gave rise to the questions in the popular mind, at the conclusion of the civil war, while in fact the nation, following in the direction of those forces which broke down the right of property in man has passed out of the circumstances which made these questions pertinent. The history of the United States but marks the steps of a grand revolution. In 1776 it was a question of colonial independence, born of the denial of the right of representation. In 1860, the question changed its phase from national to individual independence. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence which the facts of each day are writing down, not on parchment, but upon the human soul, is individual. The one proposed to break down the power of a foreign despotism, the other the tyranny of false principles. These principles underlying our social organization, which distributes society into classes, dooms some to poverty and others to affluence; crown a tyrant, in comparison with whose rule the sceptre of George the Third was mild.
Workingman’s Advocate, August 3, 1867.
6. ELIZABETH CADY STANTON CHIDES BLACK UNIONISTS73
. . . If colored men had been as wide awake as women, instead of idly waiting for republican abolitionists, now melted into one apostle, Wendell Phillips (having announced his adhesion in last week’s Standard), they would have had their Labor Unions, and their delegates to this “National Labor Congress.” Such representative men as John L. Langston, Robert Purvis, and Frederick Douglass, would have been readily admitted, and would not only have dignified their race, but by their learning, eloquence, and power have added to the ability and interest of the union. We urge the colored men of the nation to remember that “they who would be free themselves must strike the blow;” hence, if they are not represented in the next National Labor Congress to be held in Pittsburgh, Penn., August, 1869, it is their own fault. You see, friends, so soon as we women get a foothold among the “white males,” instead of selfishly rejoicing in our own good fortune, forgetting all that are behind, we turn to help our colored brother up to the same platform. The world never hears us say, “this is the woman’s hour,” for in the world of work, as in politics, we demand the equal recognition of the whole people.
One thing was clearly understood in the Convention—that the workingmen would no longer be led by the nose by politicians, as they proposed to have a people’s party in ‘72. They feel that it is a matter of no consequence which party succeeds in the coming election, as their condition will be precisely the same in the success of either Grant or Seymour. As to all the talk about a country, with Grant we shall have peace, and with Seymour war, so long as neither party proposes Universal Suffrage, or a Sound Monetary System, it makes no difference to the masses which succeeds; or, whether they are made slaves by brute force or cunning legislation.74
E. C. S.
The Revolution, October 1, 1868.
Address of the Colored Delegates to the Convention
Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 1869.
Mr. ISAAC MYERS, (colored,) of Maryland, said that he had an address prepared by the colored delegates to this Congress which he wished to read. He would not take up the time of the Convention at this stage of the proceedings, however, but asked the privilege of reading the document during the last quarter of an hour of this morning’s session. Leave to read was granted unanimously. . . .75
The following address prepared by the colored delegates for presentation to this Convention, and by a vote this morning, appointed to be heard at 11:00 A.M., was then read by Mr. ISAAC MYERS, (colored,) of Maryland. The whole Convention listened to the reader with the most profound attention and in perfect silence. Mr. MYERS, who is a light-colored mulatto, a ship carpenter from Baltimore, read the document in a full, round voice, with proper emphasis, and in a clear and distinct manner. The reading was at times interrupted with applause, and at the close, many delegates advanced and warmly congratulated him. The address was ordered to be printed, and the hour of 12 o’clock having arrived, the Convention adjourned till 2 P.M.
ADDRESS OF THE COLORED DELEGATE.
The following is the address of the Colored Delegates to the National Labor Congress:
Mr. President and Members of the National Labor Convention:
GENTLEMEN: It would be an act of great injustice to your Godlike charity should I allow the deliberations of this Convention to close without returning you the thanks of four millions of our race for your unanimous recognition of their right to representation in this Convention. We sympathize with you in the loss of your great leader and champion, the immortal WILLIAM H. SYLVIS. God in his wisdom has called him to “that bourne whence no traveler returns,” and our prayers shall ever be that his immortal spirit shall ever hover around the Throne, and bathe its wings in the morning dews of Heaven. He labored incessantly for you and your prosperity. No distance was too far for him to travel. No hours of labor were too long for him to work while he advocated eight hours for you—eight hours for rest, eight hours for study, and eight hours for work. He gave all of his hours in laboring to bring about that glorious result. His heart, soul, mind and strength were absorbed in his labor of love, and to-day, by one stroke of the unerring pen of President U. S. GRANT, you are enjoying the first fruits of victory. Write his faults in the sand, and his virtues in the granite. Gentlemen, silent but powerful and far-reaching is the revolution inaugurated by your act of taking the colored laborer by the hand and telling him that his interest is common with yours, and that he should have an equal chance in the race for life. These declarations of yours are ominous, and will not only be felt throughout the length and breadth of this great Republic, but will become another great problem in American politics for the kings and dynasties of Europe to solve. It is America and it is only Americans that can work up and work out such great revolutions in a day. God grant that it may be as lasting as the eternal hills. I speak to-day for the colored men of the whole country, from the lakes to the Gulf—from the Atlantic to the Pacific—from every hill-top, valley and plan throughout our vast domain, when I tell you that all they ask for themselves is a fair chance; that you and they may make one steady and strong pull until the laboring man of this country shall receive such pay for time made as will secure them a comfortable living for their families, educate their children and leave a dollar for a rainy day and old age. Slavery, or slave labor, the main cause of the degradation of white labor, is no more. And it is the proud boast of my life that the slave himself had a large share in the work of striking off the fetters that bound him by the ankle, while the other end bound you by the neck.
The white laboring men of the country have nothing to fear from the colored laboring man. We desire to see labor elevated and made respectable; we desire to have the hours of labor regulated, as well to the interest of the laborer and the capitalist. And you, gentlemen, may rely on the support of the colored laborers of this country in bringing about this result. If they have not strictly observed these principles in the past, it was because the doors of the workshops of the North, East and West were firmly bolted against them, and it was written over the doors: “No Negro admitted here.” Thus barred out, thus warned off, his only hope was to put his labor in the market to be controlled by selfish and unscrupulous speculators, who will dare do any deed to advance their own ends.
Mr. President and gentlemen, American citizenship with the black man is a complete failure, if he is proscribed from the workshops of this country—if any man cannot employ him who chooses, and if he cannot work for any man whom he will. If citizenship means anything at all, it means the freedom of labor, as broad and as universal as the freedom of the ballot. I cannot tell how far your action in admitting colored delegates on this floor is going to influence the minor organizations throughout the country. Shall they still proscribe the colored labor, or will they feel bound to follow your noble example of Monday? The question being today asked by the colored men of this country is only to be answered by the white men of the country. We mean in all sincerity a hearty cooperation. You cannot doubt it. Where we have had the chance, we have always demonstrated it. We carry no prejudices. We are willing to forget the wrongs of yesterday and let the dead past bury its dead. An instance of this may be found in my own native Maryland. After we had been driven from shipyard to shipyard, until at last we were kicked completely out and cast upon the cold charity of the world, we formed a cooperative union, got it incorporated, raised $40,000, bought a shipyard, gave employment to all of our men and now pay them, outside of their wages, fifty percent on their investment. And is that all? No. We give employment to their political creed, and to the very men who once sought to do us injury. So you see, gentlemen, we have no prejudice. We have issued a call for a National Labor Convention, to meet in the City of Washington the first Monday in December next. Delegates will be admitted without regard to color, and I hope you will be well represented in that convention. Questions of the mightiest importance to the labor interest of the United States will be disposed of. We will be very glad to have your cooperation there, as you have ours now. The resolutions of this convention will have an important bearing on that convention. The more you do here, the less we will have to do there.
The colored men of this nation are entirely opposed to the repudiation of the national debt. They go in for every honest dollar borrowed to be honestly paid back, and on the terms stipulated in the original agreement. Any other course is more ruinous to the laborer than to the capitalist. The permanence, not of this administration nor of any other, but of the government itself, depends on the honest paying of its debts. A dishonest government, like a dishonest individual, will be arrested, tried, convicted and punished.
The money borrowed was from individual pockets. The slaveholders of the South and their sympathizers in the North forced us to borrow that money. It was borrowed to put down the rebellion, not to put down slavery, for that was not in the contract. Liberty to the slave was a bird hatched by the eggs of the rebellion. And of all men in the United States, the laboring men of the North, East and West are most benefited by the money borrowed. You know that had you not whipped slavery, slavery would have whipped you. If the rebellion had succeeded, slavery would have soon spread over the entire country, and you white laboring men of the country would have been forced to work for what a man chose to give you, and that very often under the lash, as was the case in South Carolina. What has stopped this? The money that our government borrowed in good faith. Has the government paid too much for its use? We think you will find it is no fault of the government, but of those who rebelled against it. These are questions that require your weightiest consideration. The workingmen of this country are a vast power, can take care of themselves, and will not be hoodwinked by any political demagogue in or out of power. What we want is low prices for the necessaries of life, and honest administration of the government, reasonable hours of labor, and such a compensation for the time made as will afford us an independent living. We want no land monopolies, any more than money monopolies or labor monopolies. We want the same chance for the poor as is accorded to the rich—not to make the rich man poorer, but the poor man richer. We do not propose to wage a war on capital, and we do not intend to let capital wage a war on us. Capital and labor must work in harmony; reforms, to be made successful, must be founded on the soundest principles of political economy. We feel that in the person of President Grant the workingmen have a strong friend. After the quibbling of the Attorney General, and others in authority, whether Congress meant you should have a day’s wages for eight hours’ labor, President Grant ordered, and it was declared, that eight hours was a day’s labor, for which there should be no reduction of pay. His is a type of Americanism as handed down by the Fathers. He cannot be an aristocrat, he cannot feel himself above the common people, and any measure looking to the elevation of the workingmen of this country, we believe, is sure to have his support. The colored men of the country, we believe, are sure to have his support. The colored men of the country thoroughly indorse him.
Gentlemen, again thanking you for what you have done, and hoping you may finish the good work of uniting the colored and white workingmen of the country by some positive declaration of this convention, I wish you a complete success.
New York Times, August 19, 1869.
The following is the main portion of the address of the Colored Delegates to the National Labor Congress— It was read by Mr. Isaac Myers, (colored) of Maryland. The whole Convention listened to the reader with the most profound attention and in perfect silence. Mr. Myers is light colored, a ship carpenter, from Baltimore read the document in a full, round voice, with proper emphasis, and in a clear and distinct manner. The reading was at times interrupted with applause, and at the close many delegates advanced and warmly congratulated him. The address was ordered to be printed.
Silent but powerful
National Anti-Slavery Standard, August 28, 1869.
To any one who has watched the deliberations of this congress of artisans and working-men, one peculiar fact stands out in bold relief, viz., that the barriers of class and caste have been broken down, so far as the laboring classes of the country are concerned, if we are to take the solemnly-avowed sentiments of this body as indicative of the feelings that exist among the constituencies therein represented. For the first time in the history of this nation a convention has been held in which working-men and working-women, white and black, loyalists and ex-rebels, have met together upon terms of perfect equality, for the purpose of taking deliberative action on vital questions affecting equally the interests of all. In this respect the convention was a novelty, and is deserving of more than a mere passing notice.
In elaborating this point, he notices that colored members were welcomed to the deliberations of an assembly, the majority of whose members are of a political organization which might well be regarded as hostile to any such affiliation; that a native Mississippian delegate, an ex-Confederate officer, in addressing the convention, refers to a colored delegate who had preceded him as “the delegate from Georgia;” that a native Alabama delegate, who had owned negroes as chattels, sat at the committee board with a black man, and signed the report under this man’s name; and that an ardent and avowed Democratic partisan from New York declared, with bold frankness, that he asked for himself as a mechanic and a citizen no privilege that he was not willing to concede to every other man, white or black.
He also notices that these colored men gained the respect of all, and credits Mr. Peter C. Brown, of Philadelphia, a real ebony negro, with disentangling a parlimentary snarl into which the assembly had got itself, by giving a straightforward statement of the condition of the question, and following it up by a motion to reconsider, which was the very action needed to solve the difficulty. He also credits Mr. Isaac Myers with an address which drew forth universal praise; and Mr. R. H. Butler, “of the veriest sombre hue,” with a brief speech “replete with good sense and an excellent appreciation of the power of words” against the importation of coolies, and in recognition of the fellowship shown his friends and people. It was noticeable, too, that whenever a colored delegate addressed the chair, all eyes were simultaneously turned in the direction of the speaker, and the courtesy of general attention to his remarks was invariably paid to him—a matter that the white members were not, in every instance, able to command.
As a result, he argues that the great wall of caste and color, which has hitherto divided the laboring classes, is no longer unsurmountable. Whether the negro has overleaped the obstacle, or made a breach through it, is immaterial. The simple fact remains, that he has gone beyond it, reached the other side, and is to be, hereafter, an equal in the great field of competitive labor.
The American Workman (Boston), August 28, 1869.
Giles B. Stebbins then made some interesting remarks, closing them by offering the following resolution, which was adopted:
Resolved, That the National Labor Congress, representing five hundred thousand of the working men of our country, at its late session in Philadelphia, by recognizing the equal membership of and rights of men and women, of white and colored alike, showed a spirit of broad and impartial justice worthy of all commendation, and we hail its action as a proof of the power of truth over prejudice and oppression which must be of signal benefit to its members in helping that self-respect intelligence and moral culture by which claims of labor are to be gained and the worker truly ennobled and elevated . . . .
National Anti-Slavery Standard, December 4, 1869.
Mr. Isaac Myers of Baltimore, Md. The founder and President of the Aged Ministers Home of the AME Church is in every sense of the word a self-made man. Born of poor parents in a slave state, that afforded no school privileges for colored youths, his success in life is a noble example of what push and pluck can accomplish under the most adverse circumstances. He received a common school education in the private day school of Rev. John Fortie and at the age of 16 was apprenticed to James Jackson, a prominent colored man in his day to learn the trade of ship caulking; how thoroughly he mastered the business may be inferred from the fact that at the age of 20 he was superintending the caulking of some of the largest clipper ships that were then being built in that once famous ship-building city.
In the year 1860 he entered the wholesale grocery of Woods, Bridges, and Co., which became, during the war, the largest establishment of its kind south of Mason and Dixon’s line. He acted here in the double capacity of chief porter and shipping clerk and acquired a knowledge of the grocery business in all its branches that subsequently served a good purpose.
Leaving the above establishment in 1864 he organized and successfully conducted a company grocery store, which if left to the control of his judgment would have been today one of the great institutions of Baltimore.
In 1865 he resigned the management of the above institution, and returned to the shipyard. In this year the great strike against colored mechanics and long-shoremen was inaugurated under the leadership of the notorious “Joe” Edwards. The city was under the control of “Know Nothing” influence, and in sympathy with the strikers, and notwithstanding the bold fight made under the leadership of Mr. Myers, Wm. F. Taylor and Charles 0. Fisher, every colored mechanic in the shipyards and longshoreman, over 1,000 were driven from their employment. It was at this juncture that the executive and great organizing abilities of Mr. Myers were first demonstrated. In December of this year he conceived the idea of the colored people buying a shipyard and marine railway. The proposition was submitted to a number of merchants who promised their work. He called meetings in all the colored churches of Baltimore; organized a company, and within four months raised $10,000 cash in shares of five dollars each, exclusively from colored people; purchased of James N. Muller his yard and railway for $40,000, and 300 colored caulkers and carpenters found immediate employment. For a while they enjoyed almost a monopoly of the business of the city, also giving employment to a large number of white mechanics. He secured a government contract of $50,000, against the combined competition of ship builders of Wilmington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Alexandria. The moral influence of this organization restored the longshoremen, but the stevedores, taking the advantage of the situation, and condition of the men, cut their pay. He organized the workmen, prepared a protest and submitted it to the merchants, who ordered the pay restored to $2.50 per day, upon the penalty of giving their work to Philadelphia stevedores. The entire debt of the shipyard was paid off in five years from the profits of the business, after which he left it to enter the political arena. The same year he was appointed a messenger to the Hon. John L. Thomas, collector of customs of Baltimore, being the second colored man appointed to a position under the Federal Government in Maryland.
In January 1870, at the suggestion of George T. Downing of Rhode Island, Fred G. Barbadoes and the late Rev. J. Sella Martin, a conference of the leading Republicans of the country, white and colored, was held at the residence of U. S. Senator Pomeroy in Washington, D. C. and it was desired to petition Hon. John A. J. Cresswell, Postmaster General, to appoint Mr. Myers a special agent of the Postoffice Department. The application received the endorsement of the Committees on Postoffice and Postroad of the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives, the only endorsement of the kind on record, and on March 7, 1870, Mr. Myers received his commission, and was assigned to the supervision of the mail service in the Southern States with headquarters at Washington, D. C. About this time the Labor Question, under the leadership of the great champion of labor, Trevellick, was seriously agitating the mind of the country, it being their purpose to put in nomination a national ticket, and as a condition precedent, to divide the colored vote in the Southern States by the organization of labor clubs. Mr. Myers grasping the situation, and to offset Trevellick’s scheme, issued a call for a National Labor Convention of Colored Men, which met in the City of Washington, January 10, 1871. It is a historical fact that this was the largest and best representative convention of colored men ever held in the United States. The convention remained in session five days, and formed a national plan for the educational and industrial organization of colored people and elected Mr. Myers president. Within six months a State organization was formed in nearly all of the Southern States, as well as in some of the Eastern and Western States. In August of the same year, Mr. Myers appointed Mr. Isiah C. Wears, of Philadelphia, and Peter H. Clark, of Ohio, as delegates representing the Colored National Union and the three met the great National Labor Congress at Cincinnati, August 14th, the largest gathering of white labor men ever assembled in this country, their purpose being the organization of the Labor Reform party. The position taken by Myers, Wear, and Clark was against the amalgamation of politics with labor. After a careful summing up of the plans and purposes of the congress, on the fifth day Myers made a very characteristic speech in defense of General Grant’s administration, and in support of the Republican party as the friend of labor, the only speech of the kind made in the convention; it produced considerable excitement and threw the convention into a tumult. It was with the greatest difficulty that he was protected from personal assault on the floor of that convention. He was forced back over the railing into the space occupied by newspaper correspondent, by the pressure of the excited delegates. The speech was published in most of the leading newspapers of the country, August 18, 1871. In the state campaign of North Carolina, 1872, he rendered invaluable service, and the success of the National ticket, owes more to any of the political managers of that campaign, of which evidence in his possession will show. In the following year the Hon. Fred Douglass was elected president, since which time the National Labor Union has ceased to exist. . . .
In 1879 he retired from the service and opened a coal yard in Baltimore. He was in 1882 editor and proprietor of the Colored Citizen, a weekly campaign newspaper, published in Baltimore. In the same year he was appointed a United States gauger, and became one of the most proficient and popular men on the force. He resigned the position of United States gauger Feb. 2, 1887, the day the Democratic collector took charge of the office, and was the only man in the State who made a voluntary resignation. In the Presidential campaign of 1888 he was Secretary of the Republican Campaign Committee, of Maryland; also rendered valuable service on the stump. In 1888 he organized the Maryland Colored State Industrial Fair Association. Their first fair held in that year, eclipsed any similar one ever held by colored associations in the United States. He organized and is President of the Colored Business Men’s Association, of Baltimore; he also organized the first Building and Loan Association of that city. He has been 15 years superintendent of Bethel A.M.E. School of Baltimore. It is generally regarded as the leading Sabbath School of that denomination, and is pronounced by Secretary Smith “the banner S.S. of the world.” He is also a trustee of said church, and Secretary of the Board. He is past grand master of Masons of Maryland, and author of a Masons Digest, favorably commented on by Masonic writers, is also a prominent Odd Fellow and Good Samaritan.
He is the author of a drama in three acts, entitled “The Missionary.”
The Freeman (Indianapolis), October 12, 1889.
We alluded to this enterprise some months since, but not until last week were we able to understand its magnitude and importance. For many years past, in the city of Baltimore, the caulking of vessels had been done mainly by colored men. Hundreds of them were engaged in this business, and had acquired a reputation for superior skill and efficiency, that was known wherever American vessels landed. In October 1865, the few white caulkers combined with the ship carpenters and insisted that colored men should be discharged from the yards. The employers would not accede to this: whereupon this wicked combination had recourse to the most terrible violence, and by the use of pistol, club and knife in the hands of superior numbers they succeeded in driving them from all the shipyards.
Thrown suddenly out of an employment which had engaged a life-time, those men, most of whom had dependent families to support, were indeed in a distressed condition. They held a meeting for consultation and mutual solace. At this meeting Mr. Isaac Myers, a young man of noble heart, keen penetration, and determined energy, proposed that they form a compnay, purchase a ship yard and carry on business themselves. This was readily agreed to, and they immediately commenced to negotiate with Mr. Jas. M. Muller, Jr., for the purchase of his extensive ship-yard and railway. He was astonished at their proposition, and was loath to part with his business, but seeing the condition of the colored men, he agreed to sell out to them for forty thousand dollars. The caulkers immediately began to hold a series of meetings to interest fallow citizens in the enterprise. Ten thousand dollars worth of stock was soon taken. Among the stockholders are Rev. Bishop D. A. Payne, D. D., and Frederick Douglass, Esq.
Having secured ten thousand dollars, they succeeded, through the influence of Samual Dougherty, a colored ship captain, in borrowing thirty thousand dollars from Capt. Wm. Applegarth, which was secured by a mortgage on the ship-yard payable in six years. They took possession of the ship-yard February 12th, 1866, Captain Samuel Dougherty superintending. . . .
Two hundred and fifty colored men, frequently a greater number, are employed in this yard as carpenters and caulkers, which is a greater number than is employed by any five ship-yards in Baltimore. The average wages is three dollars per day.
During the six months which this yard has been in operation, the books show that twenty-eight thousand dollars worth of work has been done. Mr. William Applegarth, who made the loan to the company, has had twelve thousand dollars worth of work done. Some of the ship owners who were the greatast opponents of this enterprise are now among its best patrons. One of the once bitter enemies of the “nigger ship-yard” has now a large ship on its railway undergoing repairs. . . .
The Christian Recorder, August 11, 1866.
Maryland, and especially Baltimore, contains a larger proportion of skilled colored labor than any portion of the country, New Orleans not excepted. We may, therefore, hope to see its colored citizens, take and hold a leading position in all that tends to make them useful. One of the best evidences of thrift and enterprise I have noticed, so far, are the building and other self-help associations which exist here. The first-named societies were inspired by the successful economy and activity of the Germans. There are at least 25 colored societies in the city. There are several known as “The National Relief Association No. 1,” etc. The admission fee is $2.50 and ten cents a week is required thereafter. . . .
Among the noteworthy efforts is an operative brickyard, owned in five-dollar shares, and run by the share-holders themselves. It is doing very well, but I have been unable to get its balance-sheets, and we cannot state the amount and results of business done.
At various times, during the past four or five years, attempts have been made to establish cooperative stores, but they have not succeeded, chiefly because the parties engaged have not the knowledge or patience to carry out such experiments. The most interesting movement I have found is that known as the Cheseapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company, which, as it illustrates the tyranny of caste and the manner by which it can be defeated, when even energy, industry, skill, and determination (are) combined, deserves some extended notice. The company, or rather its leading corporators, have already attained more than a local fame, from the fact that from among them came the movement which resulted in the recognition last year at the Philadelphia Labor Congress of colored labor delegates, and subsequently of the organization at Washington in December following of the National Colored Labor union. Now for the origin of this enterprise. Baltimore, had always been famous as a ship-building and repairing entrepot. In slave times a large portion of the ship caulkers especially were colored men, as were also many ship-carpenters. In all other trade connected with this interest, a considerable share of the skilled, and nearly all of the unskilled labor, was colored. As a rule they were and are excellent mechanics. Frederick Douglass once worked in the very yard now owned by colored men. When last in Baltimore, he visited the yard, and took the caulker’s tool in hand once again. The slave power was strong enough to protect these colored mechanics, many of them being slaves. When the war terminated, however, the bitter hostility, hitherto, suppressed, against colored labor, manifested itself in violent combinations. As Mr. Gaines, the present manager of the company, informed me, extermination of colored mechanics was openly declared to be the aim of their white rivals. The combination was against all labor, but manifested mostly in the shipbuilding trades. The white mechanics all struck, even refusing to work, where colored cartmen and stevedores were employed. There was no antagonism or complaint on account of wages, as the colored men were as strenuous as the whites in demanding full pay. The Trades Unions, to which, of course, colored men were not admitted, organized the movement. In the yards on one side of the Patapsco River the colored caulkers were driven off in 1865. In 1866 the general strike was organized. The bosses did not sympathize with the white mechanics, and to the credit of many, be it said, they stood out as long as possible. Very sson the strike threatened to become general against all colored labor, mechanical or otherwise; the violence threatened to be extended even to hotel waiters of the proscribed race. The atrocious movement was industriously fomented by the active men in Andrew Johnson’s reaction.76
At last the leading colored caulkers, carpenters, and mechanics, seeing what the crusade meant, determined on a vigorous protective effort. Their conclusion was reached in the organization of the Maryland Mutual Joint Stock Railway Company, whose capital was to consist of 10,000 shares at $50. About 2000 shares were taken within a few days, and $10,000 subscribed, 100 shares being the largest amount taken by any one person. Most of the shares were taken in ones, twos, and threes, by mechanics, caulkers, laborers, even the barbers and washerwomen being represented. The shipyard and marine railway they now own belonged to Jas. L. Mullen and Son, earnest Union men and warm defenders of equal rights to their workmen. They offered to sell and asked no more than the place was worth—$40,000. The bargain was closed; another honorable gentleman, Capt. Sipplegarth, ship-owner, builder and navigator, came forward and loaned them the remaining $30,000, on six years’ time, at moderate interest, with the privilege of paying at any time within the six years, taking a mortgage on the property itself.
It is interesting to note their progress from this fair start. The plan embraced only ordinary business rules, and their managers have never attempted the introduction of either the industrial partnership idea, or more distinctive cooperative principles. The value of the enterprise, whoever, is in the lesson it teaches of what quiet energy and industry will do toward conquering prejudices and combinations.
The Company was organized and got to work by Feb. 2, 1866, employing at first 62 hands, nearly all skilled men, and some of them white. Business was depressed, the outrageous strike having driven it away from the port, and the work did not average for some months more than four days per week, at the average wages of $3 per day. At the present time the Company are able to employ, fulltime, 75 hands. From Feb. 2, 1866, to Jan. 1, 1867, its business amounted to about $60,000, on which the profits were nearly or quite 25 percent or $15,000. The next year was better for them, though business was generally very dull. In carrying out their work and paying their men, they had to resort to borrowing as a rule. They never had a note protested. Within four years from organization they completed the payment for their yard and railway, lifting the mortgage in June last. In 1868 they were incorporated by the title I have given, having done business previously under the firm name of John H. Smith and Co. Most of their trade is with Eastern ship-owners and masters. At the present time they do, and have done for three years past, more repairing than any other company on the Patapsco River. This success has not been achieved without serious trouble. Intimidation has been practiced on their patrons. In two instances, where profitable jobs were pending, they have been driven off by white mobs; in one case a white man who took charge of their working force was shot dead. What added point to the act was the fact that he was ordinarily one of their bitterest antagonists. On another occasion, having hired the Canton Marine Railway to take up a large ship which they were caulking and repairing, the whites threatened to strike, and so the Railway Company refused to allow its use. Still they have perservered, and today are masters of the situation. They have had some good contracts, in one case repairing Government dredges and tugs.
The managers think the feeling against them decidedly subsiding. They accredited this fact mainly to their ability to employ labor and pay for it promptly. They think that men have been forced to a sense of shame by finding no resentments cherished on the part of the corporaters of the Chesapeake Company. To some extent, more recently, they believe that the dread of Chinese labor induces the ultra-trades unionists to desire their (the colored mechanics’) favor. It is worth noting that they are not, and never have been members of the trades unions. Their business rules, as stated to me by the manager, are simple. Asking why they did more ship repair work than other firms or companies possessing equal facilities, the reply was: 1st, because our labor is of the best; the men we employ are thoroughly skilled, and 2nd, we seek to retain custom as well as make money. We have never lost a patron except by outside intimidation. We try to accommodate, work hard and overtime to finish jobs, and always use the best materials. These are good rules, and this is a good record. . . .
The ownership of their works, buildings, and machinery valued at $40,000 and a business valued at not less than $65,000, and a business of at least $75,000 per annum is no bad result of a movement designed to resist caste and race oppression. If, now, these stockholders would go further and recognize labor as entitled to profits equally with capital, if only in the partial principle of the famous Briggs Colliery (England), it would become still more a shining mark, and have as the noblest laurels the generous fact that it taught here the solution of the labor and capital problem. In one sense, even now, the material projected by the builder has become the corner-stone; but if this corporation of working men could be induced to do the larger thing, and establish an industrial co-partnership, how much more truly would the old Scriptural illustration be realized?
New York Tribune, September 1, 1870.
Should there be a convention of the colored men of the Republic at this time? is a question being asked and discussed by prominent white and colored men North and South. I answer, yes! we must have a National Convention of the colored men from every State in the Union, to be held in the city of Washington, January 13th, 1869, because 1st we are not citizens of the United States. Article IV, Sec. 2 of the Constitution of the United States says: “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.” If we are citizens of the United States, why cannot a colored man who is a voter in Massachusetts, and who removes to the State of Pennsylvania and lives there the same time it would take a white resident be a voter? Why cannot he vote? Either the State law is supreme, or Congress is powerless to enforce the Constitution of the United States. Then where do we stand in either case? Citizens of a particular state are at the will and pleasure of a majority, even if that majority is made up of “Repeaters,” and Naturalization Frauds. The “But” in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution provides for a disfranchisement of a portion of the citizens of any State. And may not any of the Reconstructed States at any future time as the laws of the United States now stand, disfranchise their colored citizens? Would they not be willing to lose one-half of their representation in Congress temporarily to accomplish this result? Certainly they would. So long as this temptation remains will it not inspire the enemies of our race to work with the hope of one day having possession of the government—declare the Reconstruction acts of Congress null and void? . . .
2. We want the franchise laws of each State to apply equally to every man irrespective of his race or color who may be a legal resident of the State in which he resides. And to do this we want a National Convention representing all the colored people of the United States to ask Congress to give us a Constitutional Amendment written in the plainest language, guaranteeing to all the male citizens of the United States, without regard to race or color, the right to vote at all elections, national or local, that may be held in any and each of the States and territories that compose the United States, also making it a high crime with a heavy penalty against any person or persons who shall interfere with said right, guaranteeing the whole power of the Government to execute said penalty. It must be evident to the best minds that this is the next great National problem to settle. . . .
3. We want the Public School laws of the different States to apply equally to white and colored pupils. . . . Therefore let our National Convention present this question to the country, asking that justice in this direction be given to the colored American.
The objection of providing ample schools and facilities for the education of colored children that now exists in some of the States, is a lack of common sense on the part of their law makers. It is a fatal blunder at statesmanship. If there were a possibility of annihilating or exterminating the “inevitable Negro” then some advantages might be pled for not educating him, but no such possibility exists, and never will exist, here he will stay and increase in numbers, until Gabriel shall blow his trumpet. Hence the great absurdity and shallow-mindedness of those who claim to be American statesmen. To educate the colored man, is to make him see his manhood and respect it. To educate him is to make him see the true value of citizenship and protect it.
To educate him is to make him a profitable laborer, mechanic or merchant that will add to the wealth and influence of the State. To educate him is to allow him to understand the true principles of Government, and make him loyal proof against domestic or foreign enemies. It is for the colored people of the country to press this question until we have all the doors of the public schools open to us. Don’t let it be said of us, that we pay our taxes to support public schools and never disturb our brains, and the brains of our lawmakers, about the rights and privileges of our children, to be educated in them without restriction as to how much they shall learn.
4. We want the colored men of the country to know and be seriously impressed, that industry and enterprise will bring that long prayed for Millenium of prosperity, good will and happiness, which is essential to American citizenship.
We want every boy to have a trade, to be the master of some profession. This is the nation’s source of wealth.
It is unfortunate as it is unjust, that the colored boy is not permitted to enter the workshops of the Northern cities to learn a trade. But parents of Northern children can combine their capital and build shops of their own, can set in motion a thousand spindle, anvils, axes and trowels, and can buy the best white talent North or the best colored talent South, and not only educate their sons in the various branches of manufacture and mechanics, but become merchants themselves by bringing into the market a commodity, the result of their own capital and enterprise.
The colored people of the South have free access to all and every branch of trade and mechanics, it is with them to rise rapid and high and to develop the capacity and worth of the colored man; from them we shall expect much, when the Congress of the United States shall make them citizens in fact as well as in name. When they shall have the right to vote without intimidation and when they shall not be kicked out of their Legislatures because they are not white.
We want and must have a National Convention to consider and present all these and more questions to the American people, and to our people and make that Convention respectful, let every hamlet, town, city, county and state in the Union, at any cost, send their delegates to Washington on the 13th of January, 1869 and present our claims calmly and dispassionately to the American Congress and to the American nation.
The Christian Recorder, November 28, 1868.
Meeting of Colored Persons—A meeting of colored men, embracing members of some of the trades, was held last evening at the Douglass Institute, for the purpose of effecting an organization into trades unions and societies. Isaac Myers was called to the chair, and on his motion James Morris was selected as temporary chairman, and Wesley Howard temporary secretary. Isaac Myers, after prayer had been made, stated the object of the meeting to be that of organizing the colored mechanics of the city and State. He said that white mechanics have their trades unions, and refuse to allow colored men to work with them, and he thought that colored men should be alive to their interests, and organize in the same manner.
The bestowing even of the franchise upon the colored men would benefit them but little if they did not organize and protect themselves and their families in this manner. He alluded to the plan now on foot to import Chinese laborers into the South to take the place of colored men. These Chinese could be procured for $50 and even $25 a year. The colored men were respected, and more deference was shown them every day. As an instance, he mentioned the case of the printer boy Douglass, who had made application for permission to work in a printing office at Washington. The very fact of the Washington Typographical Union postponing action in his case was evidence that the rights of the colored man were being treated with consideration. He continued at length, urging the importance of unity of action on the part of the colored people.
The next speaker was George Myers, who remarked that the question under consideration was of much more importance than any other to the colored race, for without organization they could accomplish nothing, but with it everything. He read from a speech recently delivered by the Hon. Henry Wilson, at Rochester, before the workingmen, during which he stated that “the saddest spectacle every presented to the American people is the spectacle presented at the capital of the republic of a class of workmen laboring to prevent another workman from working for the government of the United States.” Organization, he remarked, was the only way in which the colored man could influence State Legislatures to do away with class legislation. It was the duty of colored men to look after their rights in the labor market. He then spoke of the Labor Congress which is to assemble in a few days in the city of Philadelphia, and gave it as his opinion that the influence of meetings held in Baltimore would be felt in that body. The speaker concluded by urging unity of action in this matter on the part of the colored people as essential to their prosperity and happiness.
Wm. L. James next addressed the meeting, and at the conclusion of his remarks a motion of Isaac Myers, for the appointment of a committee of five on permanent organization was adopted. J. C. Pindell, Geo. Myers, H. C. Hawkins, Ignatius Gross and Reuben Gearing were appointed the committee, and retired to another room. In the interim James Harris, of Canada East, a bricklayer and plasterer, addressed those present, stating that he had heard a good report of them in his far distant home. He was followed by Wm. Hare, painter, whose remarks were well received by the meeting, after which the committee returned and reported as permanent officers the following named:
President, Isaac Myers; vice-presidents, Ignatius Gross and Wm. L. James; recording secretary, J. C. Fortie; assistant secretary, J. P. Harris; corresponding secretary, H. C. Hawkins, and treasurer, James Norris.
On motion the report was accepted, and Isaac Myers was conducted to the chair, and returned his thanks for the honor conferred on him.
A motion by George Myers for the appointment of an executive committee was adopted, one from each trade being selected by the respective branches. The committee consists of the following-named: Reuben Gearing, tanner; Wm. E. Wilkes, cooper; George Myers, caulker; Peter Nelson, blacksmith; James Cornish, ship-carpenter; Moses Jennings, house carpenter; Daniel Davis, engineer and machinist; Thomas J. Harris, bricklayer; John W. Goldsborough, cabinet-maker; Wm. Hare, painter; Daniel Harris, plasterer; Goerge Grason, brickmaker; Henson Williams, tinner; Ignatius Gross, iron-moulder; Charles Cornish, wheelwright; Samuel Hyer, block and pump maker; John H. Tabb, hatter; Richard Griffin, cigarmaker; Saml. Caution, sailmaker; Wm. Tidings, silversmith; Daniel Finley, coopersmith; James Jackson, stove-maker, and S. S. Brown, shoemaker.
The committee is to meet on Friday night, to prepare the rules, &c., to govern the body hereafter. A finance committee was, on motion, appointed by the president, and consists of Wesley Howard, Ignatius Gross, Frisby Ritchfield, Jas. Harris and George R. Wilson. The meeting then adjourned to next Monday evening.
Baltimore Sun, July 20, 1869.
An adjourned meeting was held last evening in the basement hall of the Douglass Institute of the delegates to the Convention of Colored Mechanics which assembled at the same place on the previous Monday. The object of the Convention has been previously stated, which was called for the purpose of organizing the colored mechanics and tradesmen of the city and State into societies or trades-unions, such as are adopted by white mechanics throughout the country. The hall was well filled, and the various branches of mechanism represented.
The Secretary, Mr. J. C. Fortie, then read the proceedings of the previous meeting, which were approved by the Convention.
Mr. George Myers, Chairman of the Executive Committee, then presented the following preamble and resolutions:—
Whereas, Divine Providence has ordained that man shall obtain his living by the sweat of his brow.
And whereas, An honorable living can only be obtained by honest, industrious and patient toil.
And whereas, An organized and unjust effort has been, and is now being put forth by our white fellow-citizen mechanics of the several States to prevent men of African descent from obtaining a living at any one of the trades.
And whereas, Said effort is unwise, unjust, unchristianlike and unrepublican, and its tendency is to degrade and render burdensome a large portion of our race; and who if allowed to work at any employment for which they are capacitated, would elevate the race of their identity, the better to prepare them to support their families, educate their children, and the more intelligently discharge the responsible duties of American citizenship. Therefore be it
Resolved, That we believe it to be expedient and right for the colored men of Maryland and of the several States to organize Trades or Labor Unions, with a view to accomplishing the following results: First, to ascertain the number of colored mechanics and their particular branch, second, to place that labor in the market as will be to the best interest of the laborer and capitalist.
And further be it resolved, That where colored labor cannot find a market because of the existence of organized superior force, that cooperative or joint stock associations be organized, that colored labor may find employment and be made productive.
And further be it resolved, That no person shall be proscribed from membership on account of his race, color or nationality.
And further be it resolved, That we recommend the use and study of Wayland’s Political Economy in all the colored mechanical and labor associations in this State, believing that when the relationship between capital and labor is more generally understood, a better feeling will exist between the employer and the employed, and the vexed question of wages be adjusted without the resort to strikes.
And further be it resolved, That we shall encourage in all our associations the wisdom of each member being a regular depositor in some Savings Bank, a member of some Building Association, and hold a policy of Accidental or Life Insurance.
The resolution having been read a second time, Mr. Lemuel Griffin made a few remarks recommending that the Convention should act with caution in whatever they undertook; and while he did not oppose the report of the committee, it was his belief that the preamble should be amended somewhat, especially that portion which spoke of efforts put forth by the white mechanics to prevent colored men from obtaining a living.
Mr. George Myers replied to Mr. Griffin, and said that it was well known that the white mechanics had organized with the above object, and as the colored men would soon be citizens, they should assert their rights.
Mr. Isaac Myers, President, also advocated the adoption of the resolutions. The meeting, he said, which had been held in that hall the previous Monday evening had been echoed by the press throughout the length and breadth of the country. White men know that when the Fifteenth Amendment is adopted the colored men will be allowed to enter the workshops of the country. They had assembled for the purpose of laying down a great principle. By combining and organizing the colored men would be enabled to present a respectable front, and it was only in this way that their full strength could be ascertained.
The resolutions, after some further debate, were then adopted by the Convention.
Resolved, That the members of each particular trade and labor association convene at some convenient place on Friday evening, August 6th, 1869, for the purpose of organization and the election of officers.
And be it further resolved, That said organizations furnish the Executive Committee with the list of its members, and the place of their residence.
Resolved, That a State Labor Convention be held in the city of Baltimore on the 12th day of September in each and every year, to be composed of five delegates from each trades union or labor organization throughout the State.
And be it further resolved, That the President of each organization shall constitute an Executive Committee, together with the President and officers of the State Convention, who shall be members ex-officio of the Executive Committee.
And be it further resolved, That said Executive Committee shall have power to make such general laws and regulations as will best accomplish the object of the organization.
Also authorizing a call for a National Convention, for which Mr. Isaac Myers
Whereas, In the course of events it has pleased Divine Providence, through the agency of war, to change the relationship between capital and labor; and whereas, by said change a general disarrangement of labor of all kinds does exist; therefore,
Be it resolved, That this State Convention do call a National Labor Convention of the colored men of the several States, to meet in the city of Washington on the first Monday in December, in the year of our Lord 1869.
Resolved, That the Executive Committee prepare a call for said Convention, to be disposed of as soon as the committee may decide.
And be it further resolved, That no proscription be made in the admission of delegates to said Convention on account of race or color.
A motion was made by Mr. Hare to substitute Richmond, Va., in place of Washington as the place for holding the National Convention, but on being put to vote was negatived by a vote of yeas 12, nays about 20.
On motion it was resolved that five delegates be appointed to the National Labor Convention (white) that meets in the city of Philadelphia, August 16, 1869.
Delegates—Isaac Myers, James Hare, Ignatus Gross, Squire Fisher and Robert H. Butler.
On motion of J. C. Fortie it was resolved that Frederick Douglass, Esq., be invited to address the citizens of Baltimore on the subject of labor.
After some further business the Convention adjourned to meet on the 6th of August.
The Christian Recorder, August 14, 1869.