Cornell University

Catherwood Library Kheel Center

Catherwood Library Kheel Center, 227 Ives Hall, 607-255-3183

African-American Workers

This guide is designed to meet the needs of those who engage in labor history projects or simply need historical background information, by helping them locate primary sources on the history of African-American workers. Primary sources listed here consist of manuscripts and oral history collections, microfilm, and audiovisual holdings.

Manuscript & Oral History Collections

  • Boyle, Louise. Southern Tenant Farmers Union Research Files, 1981-89. 2 linear ft. Collection #5859. Research files collected by Louise Boyle. Includes 150 photographs.
  • Dellums, C.L. Oral History Interview. C.L. Dellums, International President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Civil Rights Leader. [n.p.]: University of California, 1973. 159 pp. Rare/HD/6515/R36/D35
  • Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. Selected Personnel Department Files, 1901-1965. 22 linear ft. Collection #5295.

Includes 13 folders of materials on African-American railroad unions and claims of discrimination against African-American employees. These files date from the 1920s and 1930s. Also included is information on rates of pay for dining car employees and others.

  • International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Records, 1900 -. Approximately 1500 linear ft. Collection #5780.

Includes files documenting relations with the NAACP, National Urban League, Negro Labor Committee and other African-American or civil rights organizations.

  • International Workers' Order. Records, 1917-1954. 52 linear ft. Collection #5276.

This fraternal society, formed in 1930 by Communist and other left-wing members of the Workmen's Circle, provided insurance; recreational, educational and cultural activities; and political action. Organized along ethnic, as well as geographic lines, the IWO actively recruited African-American lodges, and worked against racial discrimination in the larger society.

  • National Committee on Household Employment. Records, 1908-1946, bulk 1928-1941. 7.5 linear ft. Collection #5226.

This Committee, established in 1928 at the suggestion of the Bureau of Home Economics, the Women's Bureau and the YMCA Industrial Department, intended to study and help standardize hours, wages, living and working conditions, and labor policies governing domestic employment. Besides administrative matters, the records include reports and bulletins, play scripts, surveys, lecture notes for courses on household employment, and conference proceedings, as well as publications on a variety of related subjects, including African-American domestic workers and race relations in domestic service.

  • National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (Local 1199). Records, 1938-1972. 240 linear ft. Collections #5206 and others.

Includes officers' records, records of the Drug Division, Hospital Division and Guild Division. The Drug Division's records are the most numerous, as the union functioned exclusively as the drug store local of RWDSU until the late 1950s, when it began to organize hospital workers, a significant number of whom were African-American. Subjects covered in the records include organizing, negotiations, union elections, representation, grievances, arbitration, civil rights, training, political action, legislation, strikes, health care, and social, cultural, and educational activities of this militant and reform-minded union.

  • National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (Local 1199). Bread and Roses Cultural Project Inc. Additional Records, Approx. 1979-93. 21 cubic feet. Collection #5929.

Manuscript files, clippings, video tape, 16mm film, audio tape and photographs from Local 1199's Bread and Roses Cultural Project.

  • National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (Local 1199). Oral Histories, 1975-79. Collection #5680.

Consist of transcripts of 83 interviews conducted by Brian Greenberg and Leon Fink in preparation of their book, Upheaval in the Quiet Zone. Perhaps even more than the organizational records, these interviews tell of race relations on the job and within the union, and the struggle of African-American health care workers to secure their rights. Respondents include officers and staff of 1199; rank and file members and organizers; individuals associated with the 1969 Charleston, S.C. hospital strike, which involved civil rights, religious, and community groups and became a national civil rights event; administrators of various New York City hospitals; and prominent labor, civil rights, and health care industry figures.

  • Rosie, the Riveter Revisited: Women and the World War II Experience. Long Beach: California State Univ., 1983. HD/6073/A452/U67.

Transcripts of oral interviews with women who worked in defense industries including six with African- American women. These interviews provide the backdrop for Sherna Berger Gluck's 1987 book, Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Women, the War, and Social Change.

  • Southern Organizing Drives. Files, 1977-1982. 400 sheets. Collection # 5910.

These files of Southern organizing drives, collected by Louis Agre, involved the Ogeltree law firm of Greenville, South Carolina. Ogeltree was an anti-union consulting firm. The drives took place in textile mills, paper mills, electric companies, and lumber mills, many of which employed African-Americans. The files contain documents that speak specifically about anti-union activities, a small number of which address hiring and promotional actions aimed at African-Americans within these companies.

  • Southern Tenant Farmers Union. H.L. Mitchell Speeches and Interviews. .5 linear ft. Collection #5204. Includes newsletters and pamphlets, speeches of interviews with H.L. Mitchell, co-founder of the STFU.
  • Southern Tenant Farmers Union (See Also: Boyle, Louise)
  • United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Photocopied Documents Relating to Black Workers, 1917-1943. 29 linear ft. Collection #5584 Restricted to use of Cornell undergraduates; others should request permission.

Consists of documents gathered by Professors James Gross and Cletus Daniel for their personal research. Records are drawn from a variety of government sources: the National Recovery Administration (includes hearings and reports on a variety of subjects and industries); the Dept. of Labor (subject files, State Employment Service files, and Commissioner of Conciliation files); Division of Negro Economics (including material on the Great Migration); U.S. Housing Administration (documenting living conditions 1919-1922, primarily in Northern industrial centers); Bureau of Labor Statistics Cost of Living Surveys for African-American and caucasian families in Baltimore, 1918 and 1936; and U.S. Railroad Administration, Division of Labor (3 reels of microfilm showing rates of pay of African-American employees).

Note: In addition to the above manuscript holdings, the Center houses a collection of rare pamphlets and union ephemera which include items on African-Americans. Contact Kheel Center staff for details.

Microfilm Collections

  • Black Workers in the Era of the Great Migration, 1916-1929. Microfilm, 25 reels. Collection #5750mf.

This collection of documents from federal agencies deals with industrial work, unionism, housing, race relations, returning veterans and the search for employment, and the process of migration from the South to the North. Information on African-American employment in steel and meatpacking, railroads, shipyards and coal mines, among other industries, is included. Conditions in southern agriculture during these years are also documented. The U.S. Conciliation Service, Coal Commission, National War Labor Board, Railroad Administration, Dept. of Labor's Division of Negro Economics, Bureau of Employment Security, Women's Bureau, Dept. of Justice, War Dept., Housing Corporation and Children's Bureau are among the federal agencies represented.

  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Chicago Division. Selected Records, 1925-1938. Microfilm, 3 reels. Collection #5462mf.

Largely intra-union correspondence with A. Philip Randolph and other national officers regarding local organizing efforts, grievances, rival unionism, and other matters of interest to the division.

  • East St. Louis Race Riot of 1917. Microfilm, 8 reels. Collection #5749.

Consists of transcripts of hearings before the House Select Committee to Investigate Conditions in Illinois and Missouri Interfering with Interstate Commerce between These States, along with related reports and records of the Committee and local groups (reports by and on the Illinois National Guard and proceedings of the board of inquiry, final report of the Committee, hearings to investigate the cause of the 1917 influx of southern African-American into the city, etc.); also included is the transcript of the trial of Dr. LeRoy Bundy, a leader of the East St. Louis African-American community, charged with inciting the riot.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. Highlander Folk School. Files, 1936-1972. Microfilm, 1 reel. Collection #5898mf.

In 1932, Myles Horton established the Highlander Folk School to train industrial leaders in the South. Viewed by the community around it as a communist institution, antagonism intensified when it began to accept African-Americans in the late 1940s. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) never officially investigated the school, but the Bureau maintained files on it over the years. The files contain memoranda, teletypes, letters, airtels, and newspaper clippings, along with some HFS-produced newspapers, annual reports, and pamphlets. The file is interesting for its portrayal of labor, civil rights, and Red-baiting.

  • International Labor Defense. Records, 1925-1946. Microfilm, 22 reels. Collection #5815mf.

The records of the Communist Party legal aid society document, among other activities, the organization's highly publicized campaigns in behalf of African-American prisoners in the 1930s. The cases documented here include that of Angelo Herndon, a young African-American communist arrested for distributing the Daily Worker and sentenced to eighteen years of hard labor; and the case of the Scottsboro Boys, the most important civil rights case of the 1930s. Ten reels of this collection reflect the ILD's controversial role in the Scottsboro defense and its rivalry with the NAACP.

  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Papers, 1940-1955. Part 13, NAACP and Labor. Microfilm, 58 reels. Collection #5925mf. Series A: Subject Files on Labor Conditions and Employment Discrimination. Microfilm, 21 reels. Collection #5925A.

This microfilm collection documents cases of discrimination, opportunities, and NAACP actions in the area of employment and labor. In addition to case files on discriminatory practices in the workplace, it also documents NAACP's legislative and legal redress campaigns for equal employment opportunities, as well as the development of overall NAACP strategy on employment discrimination. It centers on two periods of time: 1940-45 (discrimination in the defense industries), and 1949-55 (following the activities of Herbert Hill as labor secretary.) The files show the NAACP's role in establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission, document the movement of African- American workers to urban-industrial centers, and contain scattered files on African-American migrant workers.

  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Papers, 1940-1955. Part 13, NAACP and Labor. Microfilm, 58 reels. Collection #5925mf. Series B: Cooperation with Organized Labor. Microfilm, 25 reels. Collection #5925B.

This collection records the NAACP-led campaign for fair employment legislation, documents discrimination in defense industries, and follows the life of the FEPC. The files detail NAACP strategies (1940-41) of appeals to President Roosevelt, proposals for congressional investigations of discrimination, and massive direct action tactics (eg. the March on Washington.) The focus of this collection is on NAACP work with organizations such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, progressive elements of organized labor (particularly the Congress of Industrial Organizations), and with Jewish groups, liberal white groups, and religious organizations. It details the establishment of the NAACP's National Labor Department and its liberal philosophy. The Association contested discriminatory policies of unions and worked to expand cooperation with organized labor and with major political parties.

  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Papers, 1940-1955. Part 13, NAACP and Labor. Microfilm, 58 reels. Collection #5925mf. Series C: Legal Department Files on Labor. Microfilm, 21 reels. Collection #5925C.

This collection contains a mix of Labor Department and Legal Department files under the heading of labor, a majority of which are from the office of Clarence Mitchell. These files document the NAACP's response to employment discrimination and include correspondence of the NAACP legal staff. A large portion of this series pertains to the NAACP suit against the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (AFL), and railroad cases which Charles Houston litigated for the NAACP. It includes loyalty-security cases in which the NAACP responded to proceedings against African-American federal workers, New York State Commission against Discrimination, peonage cases, and files of Prentice Thomas, the NAACP's first labor relations specialist in the early 1940s.

  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1956-1965, Papers of the. Supplement to Part 13: The NAACP and Labor. John H. Bracey, Jr. and August Meier, editors; Blair Hydrick, compiler (Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America, 1997). Microfilm, 16 reels. Collection #6061mf.

This supplement contains the administrative files of the General Office of the NAACP. The records are organized in alphabetical order by subject. They document the NAACP’s campaign to expose and confront employer and union racial discrimination and to provide blacks with an entry into the economic mainstream. The scope of the documentation is wide, with every area of the country and all the major industries represented. Published guide available.

  • Negro Labor Committee. Records, 1925-1969. Microfilm, 17 reels. Collection #5832mf.

This collection consists of complete non-current office files of the Negro Labor Committee. Series 1 contains the office files of the Committee, while Series 2 includes the personal files of Frank R. Crosswaith, founder and long-time chairman of the Committee. It includes records of preceding organizations (Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers, 1925, and the Harlem Labor Committee, 1934), and files from the time of Winifred Gittens, Secretary of the Committee. It documents some of the Committee's special projects (Harlem Labor Center, Scholarship Benefit Fund, Negro Labor Committee-USA, proposed March on Washington, etc.), and the work of individual unions affiliated with the NLC. Crosswaith's files consist of personal correspondence, writings and speeches, his column Looking Around and Beyond, an organization subject file, and New York City Housing Authority files, along with clippings, photographs, awards, etc.

  • Randolph, A. Philip, FBI File on. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, [n.d.] From the Washington files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, released under the Freedom of Information Act. Microfilm, 1 reel. Collection #6079mf.

Consists of the file the FBI kept on Philip A. Randolph between 1922 and 1964, with the bulk of the materials in the 1940s and 1950s. The documents include memoranda, letters, teletypes, newspaper clippings, and copies of the Messenger, the publication Randolph edited between 1917 and 1928. Among Randolph's activities investigated by the FBI are his involvement in marches on Washington, his alleged communism in the 1940s, and his call for black men to resist compulsory military service. Published guide available.

  • Randolph, A. Philip. Papers, 1909-1979. Microfilm, 35 reels. Collection #5896mf.

Consists of family papers (1942-1963); general correspondence (1925-1978) on a wide range of subjects, including organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and communist activity within the union in the 1930s, the campaign for the Fair Employment Practices Committee, the 1941 March on Washington movement, voting rights, socialism, the civil rights movement, the 1963 March on Washington, and more; subject files (1909-1978), the heart of the collection, including such major topics as the BSCP, Committee to End Jim Crow in the Armed Services, FEPC, March on Washington movement, White House conferences and the Youth March for Integrated Schools; speeches and writings (1941-1978), including radio talks and testimony before government bodies, and discussions on a wide range of subjects, including Christian pacifism, the role of African- Americans in American society and American history, the role of organized labor, anticolonialism, and current events, such as violence against African-Americans, politics, and the cold war and communism; biographical file (1945-1979); and scrapbooks (1920-1979), the largest of which date from 1926, documenting early efforts to organize the BSCP, and 1941-1943, documenting the campaign for the FEPC, and race riots.

  • Southern Tenant Farmers Union. Records, 1935-1970. Microfilm, 60 reels. Collection #5204mf. Part A.

Early records document the efforts of this bi-racial union of sharecroppers, tenant farmers and small landowners to work with New Deal agencies to protect the interests of sharecroppers of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, and to a lesser extent, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama; cooperation with the ACLU and the Workers Defense League in the fight to end the system of plantation justice and peonage; conditions of daily life, as revealed in thousands of letters from sharecroppers throughout the 1930s and early 1940s; stormy relations with the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America and the CIO; a program to find work for migrant workers during WWII; the organization of California farm workers in the 1940s; national lobbying activities; and organizing among Louisiana's rice mill workers and menhaden fishermen in the 1960s.

  • Southern Tenant Farmers Union. The Green Rising, 1910-1977: A Supplement to the Southern Tenant Farmers Union Papers. Microfilm, 17 reels. Collection #5204mf. Part B. Includes papers of H.L. Mitchell, co-founder of the STFU, and three other labor activists.
  • United States. Committee on Fair Employment Practice. Selected documents, 1941-1946. Microfilm, 205 reels. Collection #5662mf.

Approximately 80% of the 14,000 complaints brought before the Committee dealt with discrimination against African-American workers in essential defense industries. Besides large statistical accumulations, these records document conditions in the factories and homes of African-American workers and provide background information on race relations for the first half of the twentieth century. The film includes records of the FEPC headquarters (hearings, reports, and studies, as well as administrative matters), and case files from field offices around the country.

Audiovisual Holdings

  • National Union of Hospital & Health Care Employees (Local 1199). Photograph Files, 1930-1986. 12,000 photographs and negatives. Collection #5933-P.

Local 1199 news editorial photographic files. These files, reflecting the membership of Local 1199, contain photographs of African-Americans within the union.

  • Roberts, Lillian. Interview, 1981. 1 cassette. Tape of Dick Cavett's interview with the Associate Director of District 37, AFSCME.

Collections in Other Cornell Libraries

  • Civil Rights During the Johnson Administration, 1963-1969. (Africana Library)

Includes 3 reels on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Administrative History

  • Federal Surveillance of Afro-Americans (1917-1925): the First World War, the Red Scare, and the Garvey Movement. Microfilm, 25 reels. (Olin Library Microforms)
  • May Anti-Slavery Collection, 1749-1933 (bulk 1840-1880.) 10 linear feet. (Olin Rare Books)

Consists mainly of correspondence among American abolitionists.

  • National Negro Congress. Records, 1936-1947. Microfilm, 51reels. (Africana Library)

Includes records of the Negro Industrial League and the Joint Committee on National Recovery, lobbies seeking fair treatment for African-Americans under the New Deal; the NNC records also include geographic and subject files reflecting its support of the industrial union movement and left-wing causes and its struggle against discrimination in the workplace and in public life.

  • New Deal Agencies and African-Americans. Microfilm, 25 reels. (Africana Library, Film #11)
  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Clipping file, 1925-1974. Microfiche, 12,000 fiches. (Olin Library Microforms)
  • U.S. Military Intelligence Reports: Surveillance of Radicals in the United States, 1917-1941. Microfilm, 34 reels. (Olin Library Microforms)

Most of the MID files on African-American radicals and suspected subversion were not included in this microfilm because they may be found in the above collection, Federal Surveillance of Afro-American, but there is some material here as well.