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Black Workers and Segregation

In Black Workers Remember: an Oral History of Segregation, Unionism, and the Freedom Struggle (1999), labor and ethnic studies historian Michael Keith Honey records the history of southern African American workers, and their struggle for both a living wage and the equal rights promised by the U.S. Constitution. Relying heavily on oral histories or testimonies, HoneyÆs book covers the period from the 1930s through the 1990s and centers on Memphis, Tennessee.

Many themes are presented in this excellent, often poignant, book that contends the labor of black workers has been at the heart of U.S. history and economic development. According to Honey, the core of the African American struggle for equality is the right to a good job and decent wages, not just civil rights; a living wage is the right of all Americans, not a privilege, thereby tying economic well-being to citizenship. Honey argues that although black workers fighting for equal rights have not usually been identified as part of the broader civil rights movement,ö they clearly are (176). One of HoneyÆs major themes is that the black factory workers described in his book ôwere as much a part of the freedom struggle as the Montgomery bus boycotters or the freedom riders in the 1960sö (p. 176). He points out that southern black workers believed unionization would act ôas a transformative agentö with which they could fight the forces of white supremacy and the racial apartheid they were forced to live under in American industry (p. 236). Honey refers to the relationship between unions and civil rights as ôcivil rights unionism, a unionism engaged simultaneously with striving for decent jobs and equal political and legal rightsö (237). In analyzing the impact of the political economy on racial segregation, Honey shows how the fight for unionization has been inextricably intertwined with the fight for civil rights.

Black workers faced a dual system of economic and racia...

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Black Workers and Segregation. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 12:30, May 29, 2020, from