Civil Rights

Black History Month Labor Leader Profiles

Over the years, we have profiled some key African American labor leaders for Black History Month. Here is a look back at some of the the women and men who fought for their rights and the rights of other Americans and who deserve our thanks. Click the link to read more about each of these heroes.

(Note that the profiles were written in various years, so some details, such as a person being an officer in a particular organization, may have changed since original publication.)

Muhammad Ali: "In 1964, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. to Muhammad Ali. His unapologetic advocacy against the Vietnam War and heightened religious practice led Ali to refuse to serve in the military after being drafted. In 1967, the U.S. Department of Justice pushed a legal case against Ali and he was found guilty of violating Selective Service laws. Sentenced to five years in prison, Ali was unable to compete professionally and missed more than three prime years of his athletic career."

Ella Josephine Baker: "Baker, a granddaughter of slaves, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1903 and moved with her family to North Carolina as a young girl. She studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she passionately challenged and organized around unfair school policies. In 1927, she graduated as class valedictorian then moved to New York to engage in social activism."

Rachel Bryan: "Rachel Bryan is currently the governmental relations and community liaison at Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in Stockton, California. She became involved in the labor movement as a member of the local’s apprenticeship program."

Charlene Carruthers: "Twenty-nine-year-old Charlene Carruthers is the national director of Black Youth Project 100, an activist, member-led organization of black 18-to-35-year-olds dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all black people. She is a black, queer, feminist writer and community organizer from the South Side of Chicago with more than 10 years of experience in racial justice, feminist and youth leadership development movement work."

Fannie Lou Hamer: "Hamer immediately went to work as a field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Returning home from a training workshop in June 1963, Hamer's bus was intercepted by policemen. She and two others were taken to jail in Winona, Mississippi, and mercilessly beaten. After she recovered, Hamer returned to Mississippi to organize voter registration drives, including the 'Freedom Ballot Campaign,' a mock election, in 1963, and the 'Freedom Summer' initiative in 1964."

Fred Hampton: "As a law student, Hampton became active in the civil rights movement and was appointed leader of the youth council of the NAACP West Suburban Branch. In 1968, he founded the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party and established a community service program that included free breakfast for school children and a free medical clinic. Hampton formed the 'rainbow coalition,' a non-aggression pact that brought together Chicago’s most powerful gangs."

Charles Horhn: "Back when Horhn began his advocacy, only 6.7% of people of color in Mississippi were registered to vote and faced intimidation and violence when they tried to exercise their right to vote. Empowered by the Civil Rights Act, Horhn was able to dispel fear and help register more and more people to vote, working with local congregations to provide transportation to make registration and voting easier. Decades of hard work paid off when enough representatives were elected to the Mississippi state legislature to overturn antiquated and discriminatory voting laws, such as the poll tax, and create a voter registration by mail system—a huge victory."

Marsha P. Johnson: "Marsha is an LGBTQ activist who became recognized in New York City by being herself and fearing no judgment on her comfort as a black transgender woman. Marsha joined the Stonewall Inn riots in her Greenwich Village neighborhood in 1968."

Bill Lucy: "Lucy was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is a special honor given to a leader whose entire career has been unselfishly dedicated to the advancement of workers’ rights and civil rights. Lucy, an exemplary winner of the award, is a shining example of a trade unionist, and has inspired thousands of his brothers and sisters to continue to fight for a better tomorrow."

Doug Moore: "Moore is the executive director of United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930, which is made up of more than 91,000 California home care workers. His union has made historical gains under his leadership, expanding membership by the thousands in recent years. When talking to Moore, I was struck by his enthusiasm and seemingly tireless resolve to grow our labor movement. You can tell he cares deeply about his members, the broader workers’ rights movement and racial justice in our country."

OUR Walmart Workers: "Courageous members of OUR Walmart have been standing up against the world's largest private employer for its unfair treatment of workers. In June 2011, several OUR Walmart members presented a Declaration of Respect to Walmart executive management, which, among other things, calls on Walmart to commit to workplace rights, higher wages, dependable work schedules, affordable health care and full-time jobs for associates."

A. Philip Randolph: "Randolph and Bayard Rustin founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) in 1965 to continue the struggle for social, political and economic justice for all working Americans. APRI is an organization of black trade unionists that continues fighting today for racial equality and economic justice."

Keith Richardson: "Keith Richardson is a dedicated young African American activist who is making things happen in today’s labor movement. Raised in a union family, he learned the value of activism and togetherness early in life."

Bayard Rustin: "Rustin served the trade union and civil rights movements as a brilliant theorist, tactician and organizer. In the face of his accomplishments, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten and fired from leadership positions because he was an openly gay man in a severely homophobic era. He conceived the coalition of liberal, labor and religious leaders who supported passage of the civil rights and anti-poverty legislation of the 1960s and, as the first executive director of the AFL-CIO's A. Philip Randolph Institute, he worked closely with the labor movement to ensure African American workers' rightful place in the House of Labor."

Umi Selah: "Born and raised Phillip Agnew, Selah changed his name after being deeply moved and inspired by a dream that came to him at night. His first taste of community activism was during his collegiate experience at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University after 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was beaten to death at a boot camp-style youth detention center in Florida. Selah is the executive director and co-founder of the Dream Defenders, an uprising of communities in struggle, shifting culture through transformational organizing."

Augusta Thomas: "Augusta currently is AFGE's national vice president for women and fair practices. She is a lifelong civil rights activist, honored labor leader and a loving mother and great-great-grandmother."

Also, this article includes videos of transgender freedom fighter Elle Hearns, courageous activist and artist Bree Newsome, United Steelworkers (USW) Vice President Fred Redmond and longtime labor leader and activist Bill Lucy.

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