Black Unionism in the Industrial South
African American Studies - Labor History
6 x 9, 208 pp.
18 b&w photos., 2 maps., 7 tables.
Pub Date: 06/01/2001
Texas A&M Southwestern Studies
  paper
Price:        $19.95 s

978-1-58544-167-9

Published by Texas A&M University Press
  THE CONSORTIUM

To Receive E-News
 
 
 

 

Black Unionism in the Industrial South

By Ernest Obadele-Starks

In the early twentieth century, the Upper Texas Gulf Coast was one of the fastest growing industrial areas in the country. The cotton trade had attracted railroad and ship labor to the banks of the Gulf of Mexico, numerous oil refineries sprouted up in response to the Spindletop gusher of 1901, and the shipbuilding and steel trades were also prospering as a result of the oil boom. Such economic promise attracted thousands of black laborers from across the South who hoped to find a good job and a better life. They were instead kept in low-wage jobs, refused union memberships, and restricted in their mobility. Black Unionism in the Industrial South presents the struggles of black workers who fought for equality and unionization in the heyday of Gulf Coast industry. Ernest Obadele-Starks examines the workers' responses to racial and class domination and their creative strategies to reach their goal. Facing public and corporate policy that typically deferred to white workers, blacks banded together to achieve representation in the workplace, form union auxiliaries, charter their own local unions, seal alliances with members of the black middle class, and manipulate the media to benefit their cause. Personal accounts highlight the workers' passion, even when their requests and demands resulted in little more than "gradual participation, sporadic inclusion, and minimal interracial cooperation." Although workers supported each other and their cause, activists did debate over the best course of action, whether that was to focus on penetrating the white-dominated unions, creating new black unions, or seeking new employment with sympathetic members of the black middle class. All of these tools were eventually used to mobilize the work force and to earn recognition for the contribution black laborers made to industry and the community. Obadele-Starks eloquently captures these workers' fight and discusses the implications of their struggle on the industrial society of the Upper Texas Gulf Coast today. Students and scholars of American labor history, race relations, and Texas history will find Black Unionism in the Industrial South a valuable and compelling scholarly work.

Ernest Obadele-Starks is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Houston.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Finally, someone has brought the Upper Texas Gulf Coast and labor race relations history out of obscurity. Obadele-Starks’ study forces us all to take a careful look at a key region in the history of southern industrialization and African American proletarianization. It offers significant insights into how black workers organized to meet multiple challenges of exploitation, racism, government ineptitude and insensitivity, and inhumane job conditions, in other words, slavery in a blue collar. . . ”--Amilcar Shabazz, American Studies, University of Alabama

“Finally, someone has brought the Upper Texas Gulf Coast and labor race relations history out of obscurity. Obadele-Starks’ study forces us all to take a careful look at a key region in the history of southern industrialization and African American proletarianization. It offers significant insights into how black workers organized to meet multiple challenges of exploitation, racism, government ineptitude and insensitivity, and inhumane job conditions, in other words, slavery in a blue collar. . . ” --Amilcar Shabazz, American Studies, University of Alabama

“This manuscript contributes to one of the most dynamic debates in recent American labor historiography—whether or not the CIO broke down racial and gender barriers in the 1930s and 1940s. The study is well grounded in the secondary literature . . . This is a very valuable, highly original manuscript based on primary research and sound judgments that grow directly from the evidence.” --Gregg Andrews, Southwest Texas State University, author of City of Dust: A Ce

“Obadele-Starks has produced the long-awaited study of Black unionism in the important Upper Gulf Coast of Texas between the late 1800s and the second world war. He tells the story with compassion for the Black workers and their communities as well as with a critical view towards the complexities of social arrangements, political conflicts, and collective behaviors. Black Unionism in the Industrial South is indispensable in reconstructing a more complete and representative historical record of minority and workers struggles in the United States.” --Emilio Zamora, Department of History, University of Houston

“Ernest Obadele-Starks has written a compelling and powerful book that resurrects the multiple traditions of African- American labor activism along the upper Texas Gulf Coast, placing black workers and their strategies at the very center of his story. An important contribution to the new scholarly literature on race and labor, Black Unionism in the Industrial South adds considerably to our understanding of the history of civil rights and labor struggles in the twentieth century.” --Eric Arnesen, Department of History and African American Studies, University

“Ernest Obadele-Starks has made a significant contribution to labor, Texas, and black history with this book. . . This book provides a useful corrective to more sanguine and less realistic portrayals of the fate of the South’s sporadic attempts at biracial unionism.” --Labor Studies Journal

“Black Unionism in the Industrial South is an excellent first step toward understanding what black workers did to empower themselves as a collective body in their struggle to create a fair and equitable workplace along the Louisiana/Texas Gulf Coast. . . . an important point of departure for the study of black labor in Texas. . . . a useful and important introduction to the fight against workplace discrimination along the upper Gulf Coast. . .” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“. . . a readable and informative study. . . Black Unionism in the Industrial South serves as an interesting and informative source of information about the efforts of African American workers to achieve economic justice in Texas during a crucial era of industrial expansion. . . . informative and valuable work. . .” --Louisiana History

“This book fills an important gap in U.S. labor history generally and in the South specifically. . . . Based on extensive research and reliable resource materials, Obadele-Starks’s work is a significant addition to the new labor history. . .” --The Journal of Southern History

“Obadele-Starks demonstrates that during the Jim Crow era, other black strategies were often more practical and effective.” --Robert Cherry, Brooklyn College

“. . . the author takes the reader on a journey that offers insights and analysis on the responses of black workers trying to survive in a racially hostile environment.” --
Black Unionism in the Industrial South is well researched and argued....His work provides a clear picture of the struggle of black workers for equality during the first half of the twentieth century.” --

OF RELATED INTEREST

Reaping a Greater Harvest
Brownsville Raid
African Texans
Styling Jim Crow
Review Copy Request Form Desk Copy Request Form