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The struggle for Afro-American workers’ rights

By Tia Heard


Keeping in the spirit of Black History Month, Dunwoody professor, Dr. Robert Woodrum gave a detailed and thought provoking speech on Feb. 16 covering the struggles Afro-Americans had to endure for economic independence after emancipation form slavery.

Economic independence for Afro-Americans has been an extremely long uphill war. Dr. Woodrum recounts the story of slaves who took over Keithfield plantation. The owner of the plantation left an overseer to manage the property in his absence, but the slaves managed to force the overseer out.

They took over the plantation and raised the crops they needed on their own. The freed slaves reign on the plantation was short-lived, but it was not given up without a brutal fight. When the widow of land’s owner sought help from local farmers the battle for Keithfield began.

A large band of Union troops eventually got involved to help the widow get the plantation back to its pre-Civil War conditions of slavery and dire conditions, but no one knows exactly what became of the freed slaves nor the Union soldiers after their involvement.

The struggle to work and earn a decent living certainly did not get any better for Afro-Americans during the years of Jim Crow. Dr. Woodrum told the story of Homer Plessey, a 30 year old black man of mixed decent from New Orleans. Plessey challenged the separate but equal law when he refused to move from a whites only train car.

Plessey took his case to the court room and it ended up before the Supreme Court where it was determined that separate but equal accommodations were constitutional based on the 14th Amendment.

Quality of life was not equal among the races despite the separate but equal ruling. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not only fought for ethical treatment for Afro-Americans, but also for workers’ rights.

Dr. King was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers strike against unsafe working conditions when he was assassinated.

Dr. King understood the Civil Rights Movement was not only about the humane treatment of black people, but also for a peoples’ right to live in a country and have the freedom to work and take care of themselves without being judged by their race.

The struggle for economic and labor equality continues today as Americans are still judged by the color of their skin.


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