Teamsters

North America's Strongest Union

Teamsters & The Fight for Civil Rights: Remembering Ernest Calloway

The contributions of black members to the success of the Teamsters Union are numerous, varied and as old as the union itself. This month, the Teamsters Union spotlights some of those contributions.

St. Louis Teamster Ernest Calloway was a major figure in the labor and civil rights movement during the mid-20th century. 

He was born on January 1, 1909, in Heberton, West Virginia. In 1913 his family moved to Kentucky, where he rebelled against segregation and social control of the coal-mining town.

After working in the mines, Calloway crisscrossed America looking for work in the midst of the Great Depression. In 1934 he attended Brookwood Labor College, where he was instilled with commitments to unionism, interracial organizing, and socialism.

In 1937 Calloway moved to Chicago, where he became involved with the United Transport Service Employees (UTSE), a union that sought to organize blacks working as railroad porters. He worked with the UTSE until 1949, when he moved to St. Louis and began his career with Teamsters Local 688.

During the 1950s Local 688 Secretary-Treasurer Harold Gibbons and Calloway instituted the local’s ‘community stewards program,’ which aimed to integrate union members fully into society. Among these initiatives were making the union hall a place that members could get help with government services, establishing a retirement home for workers, and operating a camp for invalid employees. These projects received national and international attention, leading to a broader fight for labor and social justice throughout the country.

Calloway continued in his role with Local 688 until the early 1970s, when he retired from union service. He then became an instructor at St. Louis University, teaching there until he suffered a stroke in 1981 that left him permanently debilitated. He subsequently died on December 31, 1989.

Calloway’s commitment to social justice and labor issues led to unions winning more rights and victories throughout the remainder of the century.