Whether as slaves or freedmen, the political and social status
of African Americans has always been tied to their ability to
participate in the nation's economy. Freedom in the post--Civil War
years did not guarantee equality, and African Americans from
emancipation to the present have faced the seemingly insurmountable
task of erasing pervasive public belief in the inferiority of their
For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America since 1865
describes the African American struggle to obtain equal rights in
the workplace and organized labor's response to their demands.
Award-winning historian Robert H. Zieger asserts that the promise
of jobs was similar to the forty-acres-and-a-mule restitution
pledged to African Americans during the Reconstruction era. The
inconsistencies between rhetoric and action encouraged workers,
both men and women, to organize themselves into unions to fight
against unfair hiring practices and workplace discrimination.
Though the path proved difficult, unions gradually obtained
rights for African American workers with prominent leaders at their
fore. In 1925, A. Philip Randolph formed the first black union, the
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, to fight against injustices
committed by the Pullman Company, an employer of significant
numbers of African Americans. The Congress of Industrial
Organizations (CIO) emerged in 1935, and its population quickly
swelled to include over 500,000 African American workers. The most
dramatic success came in the 1960s with the establishment of
affirmative action programs, passage of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, and Title VII enforcement measures prohibiting employer
discrimination based on race.
Though racism and unfair hiring practices still exist today,
motivated individuals and leaders of the labor movement in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries laid the groundwork for better
conditions and greater opportunities. Unions, with some sixteen
million members currently in their ranks, continue to protect
workers against discrimination in the expanding economy. For Jobs
and Freedom is the first authoritative treatment in more than two
decades of the race and labor movement, and Zieger's comprehensive
and authoritative book will be standard reading on the subject for
years to come.
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