February marks Black History Month, a time to reflect upon and celebrate the contributions black Americans have made to society. It’s also a time to remember the importance of the labor movement to black history.
The contributions of black members to the success of the Teamsters Union are numerous, varied and as old as the union itself. Black team drivers attended the first Teamster Convention in 1903 and were active in all aspects of the union—including leadership, from the beginning. That commitment remains strong today.
The Teamsters Union has traditionally been ahead of other unions in terms of the treatment of minority members, calling for “no color line” in the union as early as 1906 and began actively seeking to organize black men and women.
The Teamsters Union has always stood as a bastion of hope for all working people, regardless of race, gender or creed. But it is Teamster members themselves who have upheld the values of the union. It is the rank and file who have stood together to face and overcome adversity.
Fifty years ago today, two Memphis sanitation workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. The city’s response to the event, which was the latest in a long line of neglect and abuse of its black employees, was so inadequate that 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike. It wasn’t long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got involved and was then assassinated in Memphis while working on the strike.
The night before his assassination, King told the group of striking sanitation workers, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”