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Black history and Labor Day:
Labor Day activates a variety of emotions. For students, it means the sad end of summer vacation with the exciting beginning of a new school year.
For workers, it means a much-appreciated day off.
Whatever the first Monday in September means to you, the holiday offers a valuable opportunity to consider the contributions of Black workers to American history.
Labor unions were the driving force behind the origins of Labor Day.
In 1882, the first “workingman’s holiday” was celebrated in New York City when the Central Labor Union organized a day off of work.
Over the next 10 years, the idea spread to include several states throughout the nation, with the creation of legislation to officially recognize the day as a holiday.
During this time in history, the Pullman Palace Car Service was in full swing, offering railroad passengers luxurious travel experience.
African American men were hired as porters to serve the needs of customers.
Pullman porters endured poor working conditions, making less money and working significantly more hours than their white counterparts, who were allowed to work as conductors.
While Black workers expressed real concerns over their circumstances, they were not allowed to join the railroad labor union.
As such, it was the white workers who first organized and formally walked off of their jobs.
The Pullman Palace strike hit a national nerve as it spread across the country, resulting in violence and the deployment of federal troops.
The concerns of African American workers were not included in the list of demands and they were often encouraged to break the picket line, to work in place of the white workers.
The strike was officially declared over on August 3, 1894, right before a national presidential election.
While the white workers returned to the railroad jobs under better conditions, Black workers experienced no improvements.
With the conflict of the strike hanging heavily in the air, President Grover Cleveland made one last attempt to appease American workers, by quickly signing the observation of Labor Day into federal law.
Recognizing the effectiveness of organized labor, Black porters began preliminary steps to form their own labor union.
Their early efforts were sabotaged by management spies, who were strategically placed throughout company locations to recognize and stop any plans for worker resistance.
It took more than 25 years before they successfully formed a labor union.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was established in 1925, led by a young Civil Rights pioneer by the name of Asa Philip Randolph.
Over the next ten years, BSCP fought for recognition by the American Federation of Labor and improved working conditions for porters.
The BSCP exemplifies the importance of organized labor in the nation’s history.
As the country gears up to celebrate American workers, the contribution of the African American laborer is a significant part of the history of America.
Quote: “Freedom is never given, it is won”. A. Philip Randolph
Pastor James Baker, Jr. and our leadership team are especially thankful for those of you who provided financial donations and support in the month of September 2020, by partnering with us in efforts to advance the kingdom of God in this 21st century season: Special thanks to Ms. Cynthia Waiters-Artis, Ms. Annette Straker, Ms. Rita McGuffin, Mr. Kenneth Washington, Ms. Darlene Simmons, Ms. Mable Bazemore, Ms. Evelyn Rosado, Ms. Itholear Abbott, Mrs. Barbara Mason, Ms. Theresa Lewis, Ms. Jeanette Grant, Mr. Raymond Philips, Ms. Judith Battle, Ms. Angela Battle, Ms. Evonne Bazemore, Ms. Rita McGuffin, Mr. William Jones, Mr. Stan Harewood, Mrs. Lola Moore, Ms. Angie Scraders-Murphy, Mr. Calvin Jackson, Mrs. Angela Harrison, Ms. Ana Christian, and Ms. Gertrude Scott.
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