Today in labor history: Black workers form national union

(UCS) – Today in labor history, Dec. 6, 1869, African American delegates met in Washington, D.C., to form the Colored National Labor Union as a branch of the all-white National Labor Union created three years earlier. Unlike the NLU, the CNLU welcomed members of all races. Isaac Myers was the CNLU’s founding president; Frederick Douglass became president in 1872. Myers said prophetically the CNLU was a “safeguard for the colored man…the white and color must come together and work.” This was just four years after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

Previously in 1866, the National Labor Union (NLU) was established. One of the coordinators of the NLU, A.C. Cameron, while speaking at a national convention focused on the issue of Black workers and declared, “…interests of the labor cause demand that all workingmen be included within the ranks without regard to race or nationality…”

However, despite this statement, segregation reigned and the best that was offered to the African American workers was permission to arrange a separate union to be a branch of the NLU.

Photo: Illustration from Harper’s Weekly of the Colored National Labor Union convention in Washington, D.C. (Wikipedia)


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