Who was Rev. Bradford?
"The Forgotten Man's Hour"
Father Charles Coughlin
The Ford Hunger March
The River Rouge Plant
African Americans and the Success of the CIO
Lewis Bradford
Harry Bennett
The Battle of the Overpass
Layoffs and Intimidation
Muriel Lester
Lewis is Attacked
Lewis Dies
Locating the Autopsy
A City Mourns
Who Knew?
UAW Wins at Ford


African Americans and the Success of the CIO

As one of the newly formed CIO unions, the UAW was organizing skilled and unskilled workers industry-wide. A special effort was being made to fight racism within the ranks of workers. For the first time in history, African-Americans were organizing on the basis of equality into the nation's new trade unions.

Elise Bryant, my friend and colleague, described how at the same time Ford was laying off 75,000 workers in Detroit, her father, along with many other African-American workers, was recruited in Alabama by flyers promising "guaranteed work, good pay." Ford and Bennett worked hard through this time to develop pools of workers they were convinced would not be "contaminated" by the union message. In her dad's case, the strategy didn't work.

Many African-American workers, though, had mixed feelings. While relegated to the hardest, most dangerous jobs (Elise's father worked in the Rouge foundry), at lower pay, Ford at least gave them a job.

Clip from "Bradford You Are Dreamin'", soloist: Julian Hipkins.

Historian Steve Babson speaks of the successful CIO drives through this time: "It was, above all, the decade-long shift in the attitudes and politics of Detroit's Black community that finally tipped the scales in favor of the union." (p.105, Working Detroit, by Steve Babson, Ron Alpern, Dave Elsila, and John Revitte, 1984).

Clip from "We Speak Louder Than Machines", soloist: Lynn Marie Smith.

As the union grew, activists like the NAACP's Walter White worked to unite the communities. UAW attorney Maurice Sugar defended the rights of African- Americans in his campaign for recorder's-court. ("It's About Time", a campaign tabloid, 1931, cited on p. 157, Maurice Sugar: Law, Labor, and the Left in Detroit, 1912-1950, by Christopher Johnson, 1988). Blacks found they could become union leaders: chief shop steward at Chrysler was an African-American man, Samuel Fanroy. Cadillac had Black shop stewards, along with higher wages. These were strong inducements to join up. Wrote the Afro-American, on June 26, 1937 about organizing in Detroit's auto plants: "There are at present a few scattered units affiliated with AFL, but because the doors of this body have been closed in the face of most colored craftsmen, it is too late for it to make sincere overtures now. . . The CIO is the union movement going directly down our street."

Ford and Bennett watched in horror as the sit-down strikes swept Detroit and the nation. In February 1937 workers at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, won the union. The years of struggle, of fighting the company goons, and often the police and state troopers allied with the industrialists, was culminating in victory. Author Arthur Miller observed the events at Flint, and paraphrasing the poet W.B. Yeats, wrote, "A new beauty was being born." (p. 267, Timebends, by Arthur Miller, 1987).

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